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Sometimes just let it fail

Written on .

I was clearly on the right path in my career.

After being a project manager for a few years at my last employer, they rewarded me by assigning me five existing projects. Giving me a portfolio of projects was a nod that I was doing a good job and that I was bound to do well with the company.

After quickly reviewing each of these projects I found that one of them was in deep trouble. My company wasn’t happy with the project, the client wasn’t happy, the project team had thrown their hands in the air, and the previous project manager warned me that it was a ticking time bomb.

Knowing that it was about to go down the tubes and that I needed to save it, I focused almost exclusively on it. The other projects were doing just fine and I put them on the sideline to run themselves. This one project though required massive attention and action.

After interviewing all the stakeholders I realized that, as always, there were communications issues. In particular, previous expectations had not been met and requirements were vague. That’s where I focused — requirements definition and stakeholder communications.

We began to nail the requirements for future iterations. But the communications…they never got better. The client had had too many promises broken by the time I got on the scene that she just couldn’t overcome it. Add to that, she was combative and our communication styles drastically conflicted. I wasn’t doing a very good connecting with her.

I was able to grab the project by the throat as it was being flushed down the toilet. I pulled it back up, for a while, but about six months into the project it snapped back down the drain. One day the client unceremoniously canceled it.

Although I put 95% of my time into this project, it never truly improved and we never could figure out how to fix it. To put it frankly, this project made me miserable, and the results showed.

With that project being cancelled, senior management had second thoughts about letting me keep the other four projects. Those projects were reassigned to another project manager and I was left with the one original project I’d had for the past few years before this portfolio had been assigned to me.

I learned an enormous lesson from this chapter in my career.

Whenever you are overseeing multiple projects, do not instinctively jump on the landmine. As a project manager — as an entrepreneur — it’s drilled into our heads that failure is never an option. Never give up.

But that project, in retrospect, I probably should have let it fail and fail fast. It was doomed and everyone knew it. I was just too proud to admit it.

If something is outright failing, sometimes it’s best to just let it fail.

~ Erik