Why does it take so long to cancel some projects?
The decision to cancel a project has to be clearly justified; no one wants toreport to the Board of Directors that X project was cancelled just as your majorcompetitor is delivering a similar project and cornering the market or creatingmajor operational efficiencies.Over the past 10-20 years more and more organisations have been adoptingstructured project management techniques to 1) justify a projects [continued]existence and 2) control project delivery. The initial phases of the project focuson analysing the reasons for starting the project before the project team isformed and project cost begins to ramp up.Sometimes a formal business case, including cost benefit analysis, is producedto provide financial justification for the project spend. This in itself can be adifficult activity, especially when requirements are unclear making it difficult tocalculate total cost of ownership for a project.Project benefits have always been difficult to calculate. Projects achievinginternal efficiencies are easier to calculate benefits and pay-back periods thannew product forecasts. How do you forecast sales for a product that doesn’texist and is untested in the market (of course market analysis can help but thatis a discussion for another time).However, there are also other types of project, those that are internal politicaldriven projects; these maybe projects created to bolster someone’s powerwithin an organisation or to move the ownership of an internal operation fromone department to another. There is very little business or commercial benefitto these projects, and in some (or many!) cases the move results in moreexpensive operating costs. However, there is so much political pressure tocontinue with the project commercial sense falls by the wayside. In theseprojects a formal business case is unlikely to be sanctioned as this would onlyhighlighted the weakness in strategic thinking so the project is sanctioned tocontinue, costs ramp up and the project team become increasingly de-motivated as it is clear to the team the project doesn’t make sense.In this scenario the project manager, appointed by the project sponsor (orsteering committee) to run the project on a day-to-day basis, is put in a difficultposition; to run the project on behalf of the project sponsor and listening to theinternal concerns of the project team. Of course, internal concerns are notsufficient justification to cancel a project, evidence needs to gathered andpresented in an appropriate manner so that the sponsor (or steeringcommittee) can then see that it makes no sense to continue with the project(irrespective of how this impacts their internal political standing).