Restarting a Shelved Project – What steps should you take?

It happens for a variety of reasons; resource re-allocations, budget cuts or a company re-organization. Whatever the cause, projects are frequently ‘shelved’ (deferred) for future consideration or implementation when more favorable circumstances arise.

Now suppose you are a project manager that was just recently assigned a project that had been ‘re-energized’ or ‘brought back to life’. How should you approach the situation? What steps might you take in regards to managing a previously attempted project as opposed to a new project or maintenance project?

Step 1 – Determine what previously ‘shelved’ the project

As alluded to earlier, projects can be stopped for several reasons. But regardless of cause, it is imperative for the project manager to determine WHAT that cause was before restarting the project. This is especially important in situations where projects ran into trouble which caused them to be shelved. As the new project manager, get a gauge of what issues arose during the previous incarnation of the project and take steps to ensure that those mistakes are not repeated. Many projects that are re-started are doomed to failure mainly due to the fact that the same problems are being repeated.

Step 2 – Locate all information relating to the previous project

In most situations, any project that was previously enacted will have some level of documentation associated with it. This could be a previously drafted project plan, a set of requirements or even lists of key contacts and stakeholders. It is important to catalog as much of the information that was previously created. This will give the project manager a leg up in moving forward. One thing to note: be wary of the contents of these documents. A project manager should not simply re-utilize previous documents and data sources as they are; for all we know, it was a bad project plan or poorly defined requirements that doomed the previous incarnation of the project. So locate these documents, but consider them reference material only. New project plans, charters and requirements should be created even for projects that were restarted.

Step 3 – Speak to the previous project manager (if possible)

Any form of feedback from the previous project manager who was assigned to the project (before it was shelved) will be an invaluable resource to utilize when restarting the project. This individual will likely have good working knowledge of how the previous project progressed and will likely give good insight into how far along the previous work was before the project was stopped. Depending on what caused the stoppage, the new project manager could leverage this information to better gauge the level of effort required to move forward with the project. Additionally, the previous project manager will likely have information on previous team members and stakeholders that you could also tap for information as you move forward with the restarted project. (Note that team members and stakeholders who previously worked on the project may not be assigned to the new one)

Step 4 – Treat the project as if it was brand new

Regardless of whether or not a project is restarted, the project/program manager should ALWAYS treat the project as if was entirely new. That means being as diligent in going through the various steps of project initiation as you would with something that was entirely brand new. (For reference, please consult the post: Initiating a Project – The Key Steps for additional insight into how to start a project) Many times, project managers may be tempted to side-step various parts of the overall project process for restarted projects. Or they may be too dependent on the previous documents and details from the first incarnation of the project. Remember: the project was stopped for a reason. Sometimes those reasons are innocuous. But sometimes, they had a fundamental cause. (See Step 1) Regardless, any project, whether it be totally new or previously shelved should be treated with the same respect and care. That will give a much higher level of probability of success for the completion of the project.

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Becoming a Project Manager – What steps should one take?

While some individuals may make their ultimate career choices early, more often than not, we all go through a various set of different positions before settling in on a primary area of interest. While information on the number of career changes an individual might perform throughout their working lifetime is unclear, it is statistically significant that working professionals may hold as many as seven different jobs during their tenure in the workforce. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics: NLS FAQ)

So for those individuals that currently reside in a certain area of expertise, such as engineering development, functional management, marketing or any myriad of different disciplines, the question often asked by some is: what steps should I take if I am considering a career in project management?

If an individual is thinking of pursuing a career within the project management realm, one thing to consider up front is the following: do not consider a fundamental career change in a crisis situation. i.e. a recent layoff and a tight home budget. It is far better to plan accordingly when considering a shift in focus and do so in a gradual fashion. You will be in a far better position if you make life choice changes on your own time than attempting to do so in a crunch.

With that being said, here are some key ideas and steps that an individual looking to perform a career shift into project/program management should consider:

1. Speak to other project/program managers

Whenever one is considering a change in career, it is important to speak with individuals who already hold titles in the area of focus you are considering. As such, it is imperative that you speak with people who have been in the project/program management area for many years to gain insight into their day-to-day duties. One often has expectations coming into a position and they sometimes do not align with the actual job role. Getting insight from the experts and the seasoned professionals in the project management disciplines will give you a good gauge as to what to expect in that particular career area. Also note that there are also different ‘flavors’ to project management (technical project management for example) and it is important to gain information on each particular job role.

2. Investigate other potential career change options

Even after speaking with project/program managers in regards to their day-to-day duties, when considering a fundamental shift in title, it is also important to investigate other career options that may have some overlap with project management but reside in slightly different areas. You may discover that you are actually more interested in direct line functional management as opposed to project/program management. Furthermore, other disciplines, such as product management or business analysis may also be worthwhile in investigating. Regardless of what you discover, it is never wasted time to explore ALL options before making your ultimate decision.

3. Speak with your immediate management about your desire for a shift in position

This is often an area that is overlooked by many. Individuals often feel nervous approaching their immediate management pertaining to potential changes in their duties. This is likely due to them feeling that they may ‘hurt the feelings’ of their boss if they tell them they want to switch roles. While not all bosses are created equal (an understatement to say the least), most organizations have some form of internal policy and rules of conduct in place for people looking to explore other areas of focus. And you may be surprised to discover that your manager could be quite supportive in your quest to seek new areas of expertise. Invariably, ‘most’ managers are tasked with doing things that ensure employee loyalty. And helping people develop in their careers is a staple aspect of that role. So don’t be shy; talk to your boss. Gain their sentiment and be frank about what your desires are moving forward. You and your manager could work out a transition plan if another position that you are considering is available and he/she will likely go out of their way to ensure the move occurs smoothly. Afterall, planned transitions are FAR easier to contend with than sudden and abrupt departures.

4. Acquire specific scholastic and certification credentials in project/program management

If you have already completed all the aforementioned steps and are now certain you want to pursue a career in project/program management, it is imperative that you beef up your skill set in that area. There are copious numbers of certifications, scholastic programs and classroom training one can sign up for to broaden their horizons in the project management area. (For reference, please read my previous post: Project Management Certifications – Which one should you get?) The ‘PMP’ is the most obvious and well-known of the certification types, but there are others worth investigating, especially if one is entirely new to project management and needs to start from square one.

In closing, career changes can be both exciting and daunting. Project/program management can be a very rewarding career choice IF it aligns well with your soft skills and future career focus. Just be certain that when you do make the choice to take the plunge, you do so after doing all the aforementioned homework so as to ensure that your choice was made in a lucid and well thought out fashion.