Rob was working on a project to put business processes in place for a customer, SOTA. After a couple of months of work, SOTA was acquired by North Central Corp. and there were strains in the business relationship with the new owners. CSM's executive team decided to stop all internal projects dealing with North Central Corp. until they improved the business relationship. The executive team felt it was not wise to spend money on projects unless the customer relationship was solid.
CSM's executive team appears to have made a sensible decision in stopping internal projects involving their customer, North Central Corp. They have learned that without positive business relationships, joint business ventures often fail. However, nothing is said about their plan to build this relationship. A corollary challenge to the executive team is to look internally for systematic issues that led to this situation.
One responsibility of project leaders is to be a strong advocate for their project, especially in difficult times. A contrasting responsibility, however, is to recommend project termination when it is appropriate.
Terminating a project is a very difficult task. Responsible project termination decisions require a detailed understanding of performance as well as an understanding of the personal and organizational impact of a termination. In some organizational cultures, terminating a project is tantamount to terminating the careers of the individuals involved. Frequently, projects need to be terminated for reasons that have nothing to do with the project leader or the project team, such as:
Changes in technology have rendered the product obsolete
The business need that caused the project charter to be written is no longer valid
Technological difficulties make the approach to the problem difficult or impossible or the cost is too high
The market has changed and the product is no longer needed or economically feasible.
One essential project leadership skill is to have the courage and foresight to terminate projects when necessary. For example, many research and development organizations expect to terminate many projects before one is commercially successful. These organizations often encourage early project termination since the later a project is terminated, the more money, personnel, and other resources are wasted. It is also not uncommon that the thought of terminating a project is much worse than the results of actually doing it. Although this seems to be a task-oriented issue, it affects all aspects of project leadership. Virtually all the stakeholders need to be informed and involved in the decision. The responsibility to recommend that a project be terminated rests with any one of the stakeholders that feel it is justified. The project leader should not have to bear the full responsibility of making the recommendation.
In Western culture, people often think in terms of completion with winners and losers. Terminating a project in this context appears to be losing. In fact, leaders who, by virtue of their termination recommendation, display the ethical wisdom of minimizing organizational waste and the value of honest and open communication should be rewarded. They are taking the long-term view of doing what is best for everyone.
A Project Leader Needs to:
Accept that some projects should not be completed
Have the courage to make a decision in the best interest of the organization
Exercise the wisdom to know whether to continue or to terminate the project.