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Handling Project Termination

Terminating a sprint in Scrum is a rare event, but it does happen. An abnormal sprint termination can be called, either by the team or the product owner. This is usually done, when there is a definite feeling that the sprint is not going to meet the objectives. This is a good reason to cut losses and avoid throwing good money after bad. However, most of the times terminating a sprint or the project leaves a sense of bad feeling with the team and the product owner. Robert K. Hurley and Joseph T. Jimmerson discussed the ways to deal with the trauma of a terminated project.

There could be several reasons for pulling the plug on the project. Some of them include,

  • The project is building the wrong product or the product will be obsolete
  • The project is not delivering business value
  • Natural disaster
  • Parent company gone bankrupt

Jochen Krebs admitted that the feeling from a terminated project or a sprint is not a good one. According to him,

Halting a project causes frustration, a sense of personal failure, and guilt. The further the original project has progressed, the worse it is. Since the majority of canceled projects are troubled projects, terminating a project is perceived as a negative reaction, a last resort that is necessary to prevent further damage.

Robert and Joseph, further noted that,

Project termination sometimes also creates a negative work environment. Project managers or team members of canceled projects inevitably serve as a visible reminder of what could happen to other projects. “You’re considered radioactive when you’re leading a project or program that is terminated. Colleagues think they will get infected and don’t want to be near you,” said John Muratore. Meir Statman and David Caldwell, professors at Santa Clara University, reported that though companies acknowledge that project termination causes employee pain, they ignore the pain of employees who are retained while their projects are terminated.

Thus, with a terminated project, there is a marked drop in the motivation and productivity of the affected team members. This is often directly proportional to the time that they spent on the project.

Robert and Joseph suggested the following guidelines to remove the stigma associated with terminated projects.

  • Terminating a project needs delicate handling and finesse. Successfully closing out a terminated project should be viewed as a greater achievement than closing out a successful one.
  • The team should be made aware of the rationale behind the termination well before the official announcement.
  • The team (and project manager) should be reminded that project termination does not always indicate project mismanagement.
  • Team members should be allowed and encouraged to document accomplishments and status of the terminated project.
  • The project manager should identify how the work completed will contribute to future projects and hold a celebration of the team’s achievements.
  • The project manager should work with functional managers to reassign personnel to new projects and present team members’ plans for future assignments. These reassignments should be into comparable or higher positions, to eliminate the notion that the canceled project reflects on their capabilities.
  • The close-out must ensure that all contractual requirements are satisfied and all records properly stored. Finally, project resources must be released in a well-coordinated manner.

Thus, terminating a project is never an easy task. It takes a toll both on the organisation and the team members. However, closing it in a positive way paves the way for better learning and constructive attitude. This helps the team members as well as the future projects.

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