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By Bill Brantley, Author of The Persuasive Project Manager: Communicating For Understanding

I’ve been assigned projects after the previous project manager was fired and took off with all the documents. Sometimes, the previous project manager is around but not too cooperative with the new guy who must clean up the ex-project manager’s mess. On one occasion, I turned down a project aimed at creating a Supervisor Certificate Program, three times before my supervisor told me I had no choice but to step in and save it.


If you are a fortunate project manager (and so many men and women find themselves in that role at one time or another, even if it’s not part of their proper title), the project isn’t too damaged, and you still have time to fix the big problems. If you are not fortunate, you are metaphorically given the control yoke of a plane out of fuel and heading fast for the ground. You might be able to make a soft landing like the “Miracle on the Hudson” water landing, but you will still crash.


The Many Ways Projects Can Fail



If you visit the hyperlinks above, and read about all the challenges project managers face, you may become convinced that saving a failing project – especially if you step in as its new manager – is like saving the Titanic after it sank.


So, what do you do as the new project manager? You apply Project First Aid!


Project Management First Aid

I developed the 3BC Model© when I was in Boy Scouts and teaching First Aid. The acronym stands for Breathing, Bleeding, Broken, and Conscious. When dealing with a health emergency, you must diagnose and deal with the situation in a particular order. First, you must fix any breathing problems because that is most urgent. Second, in order of urgency, stop any bleeding. After the victim is breathing normally and the bleeding is controlled, you deal with broken bones. The final category deals with the victim being unconscious or in shock.


I use the 3BC Model© when working with project emergencies. When my supervisor gave me the Supervisor Certificate Program training project to save, I first ensured it was “breathing.” That meant the immediate, high-priority project tasks could be performed, and the project could keep moving toward its goals in the short term – either all the goals or a reduced set of vital project goals. Once I had the breathing stabilized, I turned to “bleeding.”


Bleeding is when the project loses resources such as funding, equipment, supplies, and/or personnel. I inherited a technology project that was bleeding out money and developers. I had to apply a tourniquet to strategic parts of the plan to keep some parts of the project alive while letting others go. Once the bleeding stopped, I worked with the customer and executive sponsor for “transfusions” of funding and people.


After caring for breathing and bleeding, I looked for where the project was “broken.” A broken project can survive for a long time, but its ability to deliver the original solution is severely compromised or impossible to fulfill. I’ve often run into situations in government where the project team has access to the basic features of a software package but not all the functionalities. Of course, I need the extra functionalities to fulfill what my customer or senior management wants. Work with your customers and stakeholders to find ways to splint and heal the broken parts.


The “C” in the 3BC© model deals with consciousnesses. In my First Aid courses, I talked about the symptoms of shock and trauma, which can last long after the injury has been treated. The same idea is present with projects, project teams, and stakeholders experiencing an ongoing project failure. As the new project manager, you must deal with morale issues on the team and the loss of confidence from the stakeholders.


When I took over the Supervisor Certificate Program, my very first meeting on my first day as the new project manager was dealing with a group of angry customers from a major department. I had to convince them they shouldn’t pull out of the program to create their training but trust me to deliver a revitalized program that would meet their needs. At the same time, I was dealing with a contractor who initially resisted any attempts to improve the program because the changes might be expensive. It took nearly a year to fix the project, improve relations with the contractor, and rebuild confidence in the program with the customers and stakeholders.


Rescuing a failing project will test all your skills as a project manager, but it is possible. I know because I won national recognition for reinventing the Supervisor Certificate Program after rejecting chances to save it three times.


Time to grab your project management First Aid kit!


The contents of this guest column reflect those of the author and not necessarily those of Barrett and Greene, Inc.




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