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De-Plane! De-Plane!

Fantasy_islandI'm currently in New Orleans, presenting at the LavaCon Project Conference workshops on Project Communication and Office Politics.  The Saturday morning trip was relatively uneventful... except for the layover in Chicago (gee, I wonder how many travelers' stories include that phrase?).  After we were all aboard our jet, and everyone was comfortably settled in, we were informed that there were "maintenance issues" with one of the de-icing valves and that there were two choices:

  1. Fix the valve (90 minute minimum)
  2. Find a new plane (God only knows how long)

Hence, to avoid the passenger-hostage-on-the-tarmac mistakes of Jet Blue, the kind folks at United encouraged us to disembark and to take all of our carry-on luggage with us. 

We didn't have to wait or go far.  As we left the ramp, two gates down, our flight was being announced to leave an hour later than our originally scheduled flight.

Occasionally, our projects work like this.  We may be plugging along, all comfortably working toward a goal when the brakes are hit... hard... and the project comes to a screeching halt.  And we have to "de-plane" while somebody assesses whether our project is flight-worthy. 

While this is often the work of executives lacking prioritization skills, it can sometimes be the legitimate result of a business environment change.  As James MacLennon writes on the Cazh1 blog:

If done correctly, this also allows a project to make significant course corrections, and even get canceled. If it made good business sense to start a project, it's reasonable to think that when conditions change, it can make good business sense to stop a project. Scheduled checkpoints are built-in escape hatches.

Good point, James.  So what happens next?  If you need to "de-plane" everybody from your project journey, how should it be done?  Here are a few pointers:

  • Document - ensure that all documentation up to that point is in one location and can be easily retrieved by the correct stakeholders if and when the project is to be restarted.
  • Release - formally let go of the resources working on this project, once their role has ended (i.e., their tasks to transition or end are done).
  • Celebrate (if necessary) - if the cancellation is outside the control of the project team, show them your appreciation for their hard work up to that point.  Nothing elaborate, but a little "thank you" goes a long way in building good will should they be called back.
  • Inform - let all of the stakeholders know that the project is in suspension, why it was put there, and set some expectation for follow-up (re ignition of the project or a simple touch point to assess the status).

As I was grateful to be on a working plane and be a little over an hour late, our project stakeholders will be grateful to complete a successful project, perhaps a little behind the original schedule.

Now Carpe Factum!

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