Is it project recovery or project rescue ?

Once a troubled project is recovered the team has learned, matured, and will go on to deliver again.  Every now and them I am faced with rescuing instead of recovering a project.  Rescued projects are buoyed by the recovery team.  They were drowning and now they are being held above water and taken to shore.  They fight their own rescue and although safe, with their solution delivered, they are still immature and unlikely to succeed again on their own. 

I believe in project recovery.  I think it a fine and noble calling to go in and help a team who very much wants to succeed do just that.   Teams that have been thwarted by management, leadership, budget, or experience.  Teams that have persevered when everyone around them has fled just so that they might finish what they started and get their product or solution out into the hands of users who's lives will be somehow better for it.  These teams deserve to be helped and I am delighted by the opportunity to do so. A bit idealistic but I do love my work.

It is hard to tell a recovery from a rescue.  Initially they present the same challenges and require the same responses.  But somewhere after initial success, after the first pilot or beta, after passing a few major milestones or getting funding to continue, recovery and rescue diverge.

  • Recovery projects improve continuously
  • Rescue projects plateau just above understanding what needs to be done but below being able to do it on their own
  • Recovery breeds improved communication
  • Rescue projects will require continuous effort to drive people together
  • Recovery projects have measurable increases in team velocity
  • Rescue project velocity is inconsistent and at times approaches zero
  • Recovery projects drive to quality and adjust to ensure quality is always high
  • Rescue projects drive to milestones and allow quality to fall behind meeting the schedule as a team priority
  • Recovery projects eventually invite review and incorporate critical comments as improvements
  • Rescue projects hide their failings and cook the books to present a happy face to the world

Both recovery and Rescue projects can deliver a solution.  The greatest difference occurs when the recovery team leaves.  Recovered projects are encouraged to go on and build another solution on their own. They are not likely to need recovery again in the future.  Rescued projects should not try again.  While not doomed they are only slightly more capable then they were before the rescue efforts began.

Knowing if you are rescuing or recovering a failing project will help clarify choices and inform your decisions as you observe the actions of the team and their leaders.

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