3 key steps to shutting down a project

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3 key steps to shutting down a project

Projects get canceled by the customer often. But what about our side - what happens and how do we handle it when management decides to pull the plug on our customer mid-project?
We sometimes have clients who find that, for whatever reason, they must cancel a project. It may be lack if funding, it may be a change of organizational direction and priority, and it could be that the only guy really championing the effort just got fired and no one else cares about the project that much. It happens.

How many times do we find that we have to cancel a project on one of our project clients? Has this ever happened on one of your projects? What could possibly be the reasons behind this? Use of a technology or process that we as the delivery organization are unable to handle or support, a project that we suddenly realize we can never come close to making any money on, and loss of staff that is critical to the project and can't be replaced fast enough to save the specific project.

All of these would be devastating...and then how you deal with them could mean the difference between moving forward with your head held high as an organization or having your reputation tarnished forever for bailing on what may have been a very critical project for your client in terms of effort, visibility, functionality and euros. How do you rise above the ashes and make something OK or good out of something so bad...so negative...so potentially damaging?

From my standpoint, I see the best way through the following three step process.

1. Meet with senior management.

Your senior management is likely the ones making this call so you must meet with them and even rely on them to provide much of the input that needs to go to the customer on the reasoning behind this action. It's their call, not yours. You need reasons, amounts, potential ways you're going to make this not so painful for your project customer, and maybe some options for them to take in going a different route on the implementation.

2. Meet with legal.

Along with your senior management – because you aren't likely the one making this call or you'd already be gone from the company – meet with your organization's legal counsel to determine what actions you could and might face as a result of this action. Is it worth it? Is it worth the risk of a lawsuit and – lawsuit or not – the resulting fallout of dumping your customer in mid-stream on the project? If it is and you find that you likely won't be sued, you find that you definitely personally can't be sued, and it still seems like the best option for the company, then move forward with step 3, taking it to the client.

3. Come to the customer table with options.

Always present options. Never go to the customer with issues – either smaller or monumental – without some options or solutions. And even something as big as this and possibly as final and dire as this requires that you go into this discussion with options. Oh, and take your CEO with you if you can but don't let him talk too much.

So what options can you present? Well, hopefully management helped you come up with some good ones, but basically you break the news that for 'x' reason you are planning to put an end to the project. You need to be ready to recommend a couple of organizations for your client to turn to so they can hopefully successfully finish the project. To give them some option for a productive way to end the relationship won't win you future business from them, but it may help avoid a lawsuit.