We once had a client that had a project that had veered off the path by miles. This project was millions of dollars over budget and was on the hit list to be potentially canceled. The company decided that this project was a must-have, so it had to figure out how to make it successful. It decided to hire a ‘super secret’ development team to fix the project. This ‘super secret’ development team basically threw out the code built by the previous builders and worked extra long hours, living on Monster and Red Bull and occasionally sleeping in the office, in order to get a new build in very quickly. Fortunately, those hired on the team were intelligent all-stars. That project has since found the better path and has been deemed a success. At what point do you decide this is the route to go?
You’ve already spent much more than your budget on a project. If you decide to go this route, you’re going to spend even more and that will be more per person per hour because you’re hiring specialists who will get it done. How do you pitch spending more money on a project that seems to be failing? Won’t that be similar to taking millions of dollars and shredding it as there will be no return from the investment?
I suggest that if the potential ROI on a project is great enough to propel the company into another space so that the projected revenue should increase by more than 15% year over year, that it is worth it to re-start a project rather than can it and forget it ever happened. (The 15% would change by industry. If your industry average is 2% year over year growth, you might want to drop your threshold to 8%.) If you’ve been given $5M as a project budget, are $2M over budget and now want to request another $6M to get it done, you need to be able to prove the ROI on the project. (Obviously these numbers change with industries and company size. These numbers should be a percentage of gross revenue. ) You need to prove that the completion of this project will enable the company to increase the projected percentage increase of gross revenue by 2x the industry average.
When you think of the failing project and think of hiring a new team with a fresh set of eyes to give it a swift kick in the butt, do you think it’s possible that absolutely no artifacts from the project are workable or salvageable? I would tend to disagree. Most likely, especially if there is a team of 20 or more people on the project, there will be something salvageable. However, you’d want to take everything you’re thinking of reusing under careful scrutiny, as the project is where it is for several reasons. (Trust in that there isn’t just one!) If the product is unstable, has no source code controls, breaks functions when others are fixed, but essentially does what the business needs when it works, you might want to consider trashing the code but vetting the requirements. If the product does nothing as expected or desired but works at what it does flawlessly, you might want to keep a similar development team but really work on the requirements.
There are many situations where re-starting a project and the requirements gathering process is better than canning it forever. It got from an idea to a funded project because several people believed in it and it was proven to be a money maker. Prior to employing a last resort, see if it is worth saving and what you can do to get it to the better path.