How to Get Derailed Projects Back on Track.jpg

Neither rain nor sleet nor hail may stop the mail.

Yet inclement weather, incalcitrant employees, uncooperative clients, or seemingly just about anything else trivial or significant can derail a creative project. In fact, given that factors as disparate as deadlines, budgets, resources, and expectations must coalesce to stay on track, projects that go exactly as planned are probably rarer than those that derail along the way.

While minor setbacks and course corrections are common, if not to be expected, in creative project management, you can’t ignore patterns of problems or overlook obvious challenges. Management mistakes could prevent you from delivering a project on time, within budget, and in accordance with your client’s expectations.

So, if you continue to run over budget, past deadlines, and through revisions requested by your client, you need to stop in your tracks. Then follow these seven steps to get derailed projects back on track.

1. Identify mistakes.

You wouldn’t want your mechanic to start changing your car’s tires if the motor doesn’t sound right. So, too, must you resist the temptation to start fixing your project before you know what’s wrong.

Backtrack and reassess what you’ve done so far to determine what you must do to get back on track. Did you let your creatives work too far ahead on deliverables that your client eventually rejected? Or maybe you set unrealistic deadlines that were based on what your client wanted instead of what your team could handle.

If you erred, own your mistake. Accept responsibility, apologize, and advance your project by focusing on your errors. Check the motor, not the tires.

2. React to problems.

Creative project management problems often come down to time, tasks, and resources, as in you don’t have enough time or the right resources to do the project right. If you’ve identified problems in one or more of these areas, work with your team and your client to get your derailed project back on track.

For example, you may be able to reprioritize project phases so that you can make up time or complete some essential work. You could also add resources if budget and availability permit or negotiate a new deadline that is more feasible based on what you have to work with within the time allowed.

3. Refocus your project.

You may be a victim of scope creep if the project that you’re working on barely resembles the one that you began. Consider whether or not consistent or significant changes requested by the client have irreparably altered the project’s parameters.

Manage scope creep by reviewing the originally agreed-upon terms with the client. You can then ask the client to adjust its expectations so that you can deliver the project that it had first requested. Or the client can submit change orders to give you the additional direction and funds that you need to complete the revised project.

4. Resolve conflicts.

Creative differences can derail projects as well. Internal disputes among creatives could delay the project, or clients could disagree with your team’s direction. Either way, you must resolve conflicts.

Gather the team and discuss what, if anything, you can do to put your project back on track without sacrificing quality and creativity. Then take your proposed solutions to your client for approval.

If internal disputes are hampering progress, gather the conflicting team members for a meeting. Hear them out and resolve their differences to the best of your abilities. Then focus everyone on your project, where their energy and efforts are most needed.

5. Learn from your mistakes.

No two projects are alike, but that doesn’t mean you can’t apply lessons learned from one to help you with another.

When your project derails, compare your estimates to actuals from similar work that you completed previously. Perhaps you will find that you underestimated the need for one resource while overestimating the time needed for another. Adjust accordingly.

6. Focus your attention.

You can usually do more by doing less. Minimize competing demands for your attention, at least until you have put your project back on track.

Saying “no” is important for successful creative project management. Prioritize tasks that are essential for pleasing your client and finishing your project on time and within budget.

Stop multitasking as well. Finish your work at hand before moving on to something else.

7. Communicate with each other.

When it comes to derailed creative projects, communication breakdowns are common culprits. If your team isn’t communicating often enough or clearly enough, tasks can be delayed, and deliverables can disappoint clients.

Keep communication flowing so that everyone is aware of what is expected of them at any given time. Consider using creative management software to share schedules, to-do items, and files.

If possible, allow your client to proof documents digitally so that your creatives can work directly on the client’s feedback. This could help reduce the number of revisions, thereby helping you get your project back on track.

With so much that can go wrong, creative projects can go off the tracks for any number of reasons. When they do, follow these seven steps to get your derailed project back on track.

How do you get derailed projects back on track? Tell us.