Project management: Scrapping a doomed project

Knowing when to kill a project gone bad can save big money

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by Ty Kiisel - On September 4, 1957, the Ford Motor Company introduced the Edsel to directly compete with GM's Oldsmobile brand. It didn't take long before Ford recognized it had made a costly mistake. On November 19, 1959, Ford decided to pull the plug on its $350 million ($1.55 billion in today's dollars) good idea gone bad.

[ See also: Use social media to build project management knowledge ]

Successfully managing project-based work sometimes requires that project managers recognize when good projects have gone bad and pull the plug before too many resources are needlessly wasted. Thankfully, most project managers aren't staring at a $1.5 billion project that needs to be terminated -- but I know of one organization that saved an estimated $8-10 million by pulling the plug on an Edsel of a project.

Ideally, the criteria for putting a DOA project out of its misery should be determined prior to the project beginning. What's more, the "firing squad" should be identified before the project begins too. Sometimes in the heat of battle, it's difficult to dispassionately consider discontinuing a troubled project.

There was no single reason why the Edsel failed. Styling, quality, and a lack of internal support at Ford have all been cited as possible reasons. However the Edsel was manufactured in the same factories as its more successful siblings, Ford and Mercury. The same can also be said of IT projects that struggle -- there's seldom a single reason why a project fails. Regardless of the reasons, scrapping a doomed project is difficult for most project managers. That said, I often think about Henry Ford and how he killed the car he named after his son.

Ty Kiisel writes about project management issues and best practices for @task Project Management Software.

See also: Four things project managers can learn from base coaches

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