5 Questions to Get a Project Back on Track

Seven out of ten corporate projects never see the light of day. How to make sure yours isn’t one of them.  

It’s not a reality anyone is proud of, but if you’re involved in a corporate project, it’s likely to fail. In fact, one study found that an estimated 70% of all corporate projects do.

Experts say that before a project goes off the rails, there are often signs that something is amiss. Maybe progress has stalled or communication with the client feels off, or the project is no longer a priority for most of the team. Sometimes a project will lag when the person who championed it leaves the company, and the project’s objectives no longer align with those of the company. When you start to see these signs, it’s often time to take a step back and figure out what caused the project to go off course, and more importantly, how to get it back on course. “Projects often go off track, but there are ways to get them back on track,” says Korn Ferry Advance Coach Valerie Olson. Here are some questions to ask:

What caused the derailment?

It’s important to understand why a project is flagging, Olson says, because then you’ll know what problem you’re solving for. For instance, did someone on the project team drop the ball on a deliverable? Were the project objectives not clear from the beginning? Studies show that a lack of clear goals is the cause of project failure 37% of the time. “Understanding where things went wrong can help you course-correct and ensure you stay on top of the project going forward,” says Korn Ferry Advance career and leadership coach Sarah E. Williams.

Are the objectives achievable?

Take a moment and consider whether the project is too large to achieve or too small to make a difference to the client, Olson says. Keep in mind that when a long-term project is first assigned, you can easily get overwhelmed if you don’t set up a system for scoping, planning, scheduling, and communicating among collaborators and stakeholders, she says.

Are there clear deliverables and deadlines?

If progress has slowed down or halted, Williams recommends reading through prior meeting notes to review to-do lists and deadlines. “If a deadline is not assigned, it is easy for something to get put on the back burner,” she says. Make sure all required tasks have been assigned with clear and realistic deadlines. Have a team meeting to discuss tasks and responsibilities going forward, Olson says.

Is the work being assigned to the right team members?

If the project is behind schedule, it might be a good idea to assign tasks based on team members’ subject matter expertise or bandwidth, Williams says. If someone lacks the expertise to quickly complete a task or is bogged down with other projects, reassigning the work might be a good idea. “When someone is familiar with a subject, they can work more efficiently, requiring less research and assistance,” Williams says. The same is true of someone who has time to complete a task.

How are you keeping track of progress?

Once a project gets back on track, it’s important to set up a realistic timeline and a system for monitoring whether milestones are being met, Olson says. A simple spreadsheet or more advanced project-management software can help you keep on top of who is doing what, as well as provide a general sense of how the project is being organized and executed, Williams says. “You should constantly update and review progress to ensure things are moving forward,” she says.