Do’s and don’ts when taking over a troubled project

When you become a senior project manager there are more chances that your boss or other managers may trust you when they face a troubled project and need you to bring it back to the path of success.

If they trust you for such kind of mission critical tasks you must be proud. But, after the first moments of increased self-esteem, what do you have to do in order to not deceive the confidence they are placing in you? And what should you avoid?

The following list reflects some points I consider as we must do or avoid in these situations:

The Do’s

  • Set stakeholder expectations
  • Read, look and listen (contract, project requirements,…)
  • Talk to every team member individually and grasp its vision of how the project arrived to that situation
  • Formulate what must be changed
  • Work with the team with new baselines and deliverables definition
  • Reschedule
  • Follow-up the project continuously (advance versus estimations, costs, …) and act immediately in case of deviations
  • Be transparent with the team about the consequences of continuing with the previous  ways of working and get their commitment to apply the changes
  • Change any team member uncommited or who is in a negative mood about the project (that might be spread to the rest of the team)
  • Look for improvements in the project and praise the team for them
  • Catch immediately any undesired behaviour and correct it

The Don’ts

  • Do not make commitments until you have obtained the full picture of the situation
  • Do not badmouth the previous project manager. It is not professional and your client (internal or external) does not need to have transparency of your internal problems
  • Do not criticize publicly any team member (praise in public, criticism privately)
  • Do not exchange quality for speed


This is my list but I am sure it can be improved with your comments. I’d love to read your comments and update it with your personal experience.


Do’s and don’ts when taking over a troubled project

Leading with our example

Some days ago I read an interesting post from Voices on Project Management. It made me think about the way our behavior can influence our team in a project, especially its young members, that can be prompted to imitate our conduct.

The way we deal with the project stakeholders or even the way we manage our relationship with managers and people from other functional areas, even if they are  unrelated with the project, are telling our team mates how we expect them to deal with these people too.

Desert leader
Image by Hamed Saber (CC BY 2.0)

For instance, if we do not control ourselves and criticize without compassion the manager from a functional area because we are having problems to obtain the resources she had committed to provide to our project we are also telling (consciously or not) our team that this behavior against some project stakeholders is accepted (or acceptable).

On a positive situation, a smart negotiation (win-win) with a project vendor can show our team that we expect them to keep a good relationship with the sellers involved in the project, we want our vendors to grow with us and we want the relationship with them to last further than the project.

Many different situations come to my mind when I think about the way that our actions or communications show our team mates what we consider an appropriate behavior:

  • the way we answer emails,
  • the way we manage meetings, especially difficult meetings,
  • the way we manage arguments between members of the team,
  • the way we react when a job mate comes to see us with a problem,
  • the way we follow the ground rules established for the project,
  • the way we act when somebody comes late to a meeting,
  • the way we accomplish our commitments,
  • the way we react when others make mistakes,
  • the actions we take when the team misses a milestone,
  • our conduct when we, or someone else from the team, receive a present from a vendor,

There are many situations during the life of a project that allow us to point out, implicitly or explicitly, the way to be followed by the team.

What other situations do you think that can help us indirectly coach a project team?

Leading with our example