Appendix E E-1
Guidelines—When to Kill the Project
A project often develops enormous momentum as team members devote large amounts of time
and energy and even make substantial personal sacrifices (overtime, changes in personal plans,
etc.) on behalf of the project. Yet there are some circumstances in which it simply doesn’t make
sense to continue—in other words, there are times when a project should either be abandoned
completely or stopped, reviewed, and then completely replanned from scratch.
Here are some of the circumstances under which it might make sense to abandon the project:
When it no longer has strategic value.
When the project is no longer contributing to the organization’s long- or short-term business
strategies, no matter how wonderful the project’s end product or process, it should probably
be abandoned. Why consume resources for a non-strategic set of deliverables?
Many project managers would say that this is the single most painful situation they face. It’s
tough to let go—especially when you’re building a good product on time and within budget
and you’ve invested a lot of yourself in the project. On the other hand, in today’s lightning-
fast business world, top managers must frequently abandon business strategies that aren’t
working or are no longer competitive—and this means directing subordinates to let go of
projects that no longer make good business sense.
When it is simply no longer feasible.
When the project cannot be done properly with the available resources or under the current
circumstances, it may make sense to abandon it.
When deliverables repeatedly fail to appear, despite the best efforts of the team.
If at first (and second, and third, and fourth!) you don’t succeed, you should probably
abandon your plan and start from scratch before wasting more resources.
When the deliverables are substantially and continually behind schedule.
In this circumstance, you should first try to adjust the scope, apply more resources, or adjust
the quality level. If these fail, then the plan is likely bad and should be abandoned.
When there are more issues than successes.
Call them problems, concerns, or plain old troubles, but when issues outnumber the
successfully completed milestones and deliverables, you probably have a poorly designed
project. The project should probably be abandoned and stakeholders (especially the issue-
defining stakeholders) reassembled to design a new project from scratch—one that
accommodates the issues.
When budget or resource allocations are continually exceeded.
This probably means a poor project design, including inadequate scope description, poor
estimate of resources, and inadequate cost estimate. Consider rethinking the entire project
and starting again with a more reasonable budget or resource allocation. If these can’t be
obtained, then reduce the deliverables, either in quality or quantity, so that they more
realistically match the available resources and funds.