by Johanna Rothman
I’ve worked with several managers and developers who had a difficult time killing cancelled projects. One developer was so enamored of a project, that even after he was laid off from the company, he returned on his own time to complete the project! You might think he was a giving helpful person — and you’d be right. But his continued work on the project, even for “free,” cost the company time in support of his “free” work.
If your company has canceled a project, then work to stop the project. When I help managers cancel projects, we discuss how they will manage the cessation of work.
- First, explain to the people on the project why you’re canceling the project and what happens to them. People want to know that you appreciate their efforts. And they want to know what work they’ll be doing now.
- Give people time to clean up their work before starting on their new work. That means checking in the code that’s checked out with comments that explain the state of the code, or noting on a design which alternatives were under discussion, or which tests were or were not completed. Cleaning up work is not the same as finishing up work, so I recommend this step take less than a day to perform.
- Cancel all meetings associated with this project. Once people clear their schedules of these project-related meetings, they’ll see other time they have available for the new work.
- Assign someone to handle the inevitable questions about the canceled project, preferably someone high up in management. If a technical person has the project information, he or she might start working on it again. If a manager is assigned to be the point person, the manager is less likely to start working on the project.
- If you’re canceling a project that’s had some substantial work (sometimes as little as a few weeks or more), take the time to perform a project retrospective and see what people learned from this project.
- Start people on their new project as soon as they’ve cleaned up their work.
Canceling a project may not be fun for you. But if you cancel the project cleanly, you won’t have to do it again — and you’ll be helping the company move forward.
Johanna Rothman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article reprinted with permission from the Pragmatic Manager.