It is a fact of life that from time to time things don't go according to plan. Computer systems do not go in as smoothly as expected, product launches do not meet their targets or mergers start to unravel at breakneck speed. All too often these events occur because of a lack of planning at the start, but when you've got angry clients, suppliers and staff breathing down your neck that thought offers little comfort.
With the pressure mounting, there is a danger that you could lapse into a vicious circle, doing more of the thing that got you into the situation in the first place. Throwing more people or money at the problem may look like you are doing something, but unless you tackle the root causes all you are doing is compounding it.
If you find yourself in this situation the first thing to do is STOP. Calling a halt to a major project is a brave move to take, particularly as the failure of the project is a reflection on your personal ability but often bravery is vital if disaster is to be avoided. Stopping gives you time to reflect on what is happening without the need to focus on the day-to-day firefighting of the project.
The next step is to LISTEN. Ask people what they think is going wrong, how they feel about the project and what they think could be done to get it back on track. In my experience, a lack of communication is one of the biggest problems on projects. I have seen project managers focus ever closer on the tasks to be done, but forget that those involved have often lost faith and trust. Listening to people helps the process of restoring confidence in your personal ability and the potential for the project to succeed.
Then you need to make some space and THINK about how you are going to reverse the decline. While you will want to meet the overall objectives, also focus on delivering some short-term value. This can be vital in restoring faith amongst the project's stakeholders and could get them back on your side faster than any pep talk.
Finally, you need to ACT on your plan. It may have all the charts and diagrams that a plan could need, but if no one does anything with it, then so what? Action requires firm but sensitive leadership, mixed with a little negotiation. Rebuilding trust and confidence in your ability will enable you to deal with the hiccups that come along the way.
Clearly, not having problems in the first place saves everyone time, energy and money. But if you do find yourself in trouble don't panic. With a clear head, a sensible strategy and some common sense you stand a good chance of turning the situation round.