How to Rescue a Derailed Project – The Practical Project Manager

The Practical Project Manager

The place to look for practical solutions to help in the journey of project management

How to Rescue a Derailed Project

A derailed project is the last thing any Project Manager wants to be in the middle of. It may be your project that got derailed or you have been assigned a derailed project. A derailed project creates a loss which the business has to heal from. Lost business, lost trust in the project, lost confidence in the project team, lost opportunities and the list goes on and on.

What causes a project to be derailed?

The reasons why a project fail as many as the projects. Sometimes, and this happens often, there are several reasons that lead to a derailed project but there may be the one with the most impact. You can check out this shared in an earlier posts here and here. You also need to be aware that there may be a series of events that worked together to cause the derailment. It may not be just one reason.

Steps to Recovery

Take Stock

Collect all the information that is available on the project. Typically, I start with the signed off and official project documents when reviewing a project. In this case, try as much as possible to collect everything including all project artefacts, informal agreements, and email trails. You are looking for anything that can give a clue as to what caused the project to fail. Make an initial assessment based on your experience.

Meet the Team

Once you have an idea of what could be going on, park that information and have a meeting with the implementation team. Review the project charter, if available to understand who the stakeholders were and plan to meet them. Ask them to walk you through the project. Take notes and ask questions. You may need to have several sessions. Have as many sessions as needed to get all the information. Keep in mind that this can be a very heated conversation because there may be egos and emotions that may be hindering an objective conversation. Try and cut through the fog.

Prepare a report

Now prepare a report to present to the Project Sponsor and Executives of your assessment. Don’t come up with a remediation at this point. Just present the facts as they are and let this be discussed by the Project Sponsor and Executive. When developing the report, ensure you have an abridged version of the report and have the detailed report as well. Make sure any information that you present can be supported by facts and not perception. Collect feedback and enrich your report further.

Decision time

A decision has to be made at this point. Now that you have an enriched report and enough information, you can make a recommendation. The decision here should be Kill the project or Recover the Project.

The reason to recover the project must be driven by a proper business case and a willingness by the executive to spend resources and effort once again.

Develop a Recovery Strategy and Plan

If the decision has been made to recover the project, a strategy needs to be developed. A proper plan also needs to be developed. Here is where the work is. Be careful not to repeat the same mistakes or create the same environment that caused the derailment in the first place.

Recovery of projects comes with a huge amount of risk but it also comes with great rewards. If the recovery goes well, the Sponsor and Executives now have a renewed confidence in the projects methodology. If the recovery goes south, the Executives will have an even worse reaction because they have gone down that path twice and have been disappointed twice.

However, I say, be like Richard Branson.


Have you ever been in a project that was derailed? How did you go about the recovery? Have you ever had to recover a derailed project?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Leave me a comment below or email me on

Photo credit: Strosnider Photo Company
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  1. About a year ago, I took on an ailing leisure business and gave it the appropriate doses, but it is still demanding for more. My approach was to regain the lost customer confidence since there was lost confidence, lost trust in the employees, and I have slowly managed to get back this confidence, sales are still low. I can see clearly now the slippery path. Should ‘derailed trains’ be completely abandoned? I say,no! How far should one go on with resurrection? As llong as it takes, with the appropriate strategy

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