Project Doldrums


 Horror Story No. 2: Project Doldrums

It’s budget time. The team is listless – no enthusiasm for the project as no one believes that the product will work. Yet here we drift toward starting a new clinical trial.

The intrepid PM declares a willingness to present a ‘no go’ budget to management – inquiring: “What new data do we have that would allow management to step back from this decision that they made to proceed less than a year before?”

The room reverberates with silence.

The intrepid PM asks: “What work could we do to generate data to convince management to STOP?”

Slowly the team starts to describe experiments and to list the work required to produce the necessary material. We discuss which work needs to come first, how the data is likely to come out, and how to ‘weigh the preponderance of the evidence’ in a year.

The intrepid PM asks: “What if we got positive results from these experiments (however unlikely)?  Would we feel excited, comfortable moving forward?” And the team said: YES!

Grim ReaperThe Horror: The program eventually died several years later of natural causes – no one wanted to kill it, no one wanted to support it, so the project lagged and lagged and eventually died. I suspect one possible reason the project limped along was to avoid any more layoffs by keeping staff busy until the ‘next best thing’ came along.

Scary Lessons: It appears this project suffered from a lack of sponsorship and ongoing review of the project portfolio.  Once the project was launched, management seems to have washed their hands of it and moved on to other priorities.  The team also appears to have become caught up in the doldrums of a project where the link to corporate strategy was lost. 

How essential it is to remain connected to strategy, your sponsor, and to the hearts and minds of your team!  Here are just a few suggestions to consider when the grim reaper starts heading your way:

  • Refer often to the project charter and the link to company strategy during project meetings and updates.
  • Keep watching and listening for connections to the project and bring them back to the team. 
  • Listen to your team’s concerns beyond just accomplishing tasks and try to address them with your sponsor. 
  • And if your sponsor has become distracted, it is essential that you re-engage them as soon as possible. 

Be creative… and don’t be afraid to be SCARY if you need to!


Doug Bedinger

“Helping individuals, project teams, and whole organizations work better together.”



1 thought on “Project Doldrums”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top