Work in Project Management long enough, and eventually you will come across everything - this will include having a Project you were working on cancelled. This can be a difficult process because we are often personally invested in Projects, and seeing all that hard work being seemingly be in vein can be difficult. In this article series I give some considerations to cancelling projects, discussing if it should be done, why it should be and how.
Firstly, today I will look at the question "Should Projects ever be cancelled?" Quite simply: Yes. The alternative is to suggest that all Projects, no matter how warped, off-track or irrelevant they have become, should be permitted to go on indefinitely. That clearly doesn’t make sense, so we need to accept the hard truth that cancelling a project is sometimes the correct decision. However, rather than seeing it as a purely negative activity, I suggest that cancelling Projects should actually be seen as a sign of strength. There is always the temptation to continue to throw good money after bad, to keep plugging away at something for just a bit longer, work a bit harder etc. But to have the courage to go against this and make the decision to end the project is tough – but such is the nature of leadership. It requires the ability to emotionally disconnect from the project and look at the big picture, consider the facts at hand and make a clear decision.
So whose responsibility is this decision? Well this will depend on the organisational structure, but essentially the Project sponsor, sponsoring group or body; this may be the Programme Manager, a Project Sponsor or a Project Board. If this isn’t clear within your organisation then this potentially points at bigger problems, and even hints at how the project may have found itself in this position in the first place. The Project Manager themselves shouldn’t make the decision, instead they may identify that they don’t think the project will meet its desired goals, and communicate this to the higher decision making body for review.
So, why would a Project be cancelled? In my view it can one of two main reasons: It’s not the right project any more, or the project isn’t being done right. In the next articles in this series I will look at each of these in turn - stay tuned! In the team time, have you ever worked on a Project that has been cancelled - or even had to decide to cancel one yourself?
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