• Carrie Nedrow

Five red flags signaling you have a Rescue Project on your hands

Updated: Nov 7, 2019

Enduring Solutions is a management consulting firm with expertise in creating order out of chaos for Rescue Projects, Business Operations, and Portfolio Management.


Let’s face it. Every once in a while, we are faced with an initiative conundrum of sorts where we realize no relevant progress is being made. Most often, we know that our initiative is in hot water because everyone around us talks in hushed voices or just moans when the initiative comes up.


It doesn’t feel good. And, if it lingers, it’s not good for your organization, your brand, or your company.


The point is, if you catch the early warning signs, turning-around the initiative is less painful and usually has better outcomes. Here are some red flag warnings alerting you to an impending disaster.


  1. You don’t get straight answers to basic questions

  2. Your peers resent the prioritization allocated to the initiative

  3. Your timeline is continuously being updated - in the wrong direction

  4. Your stakeholders disagree on corrective action

  5. Your top performers start to have uneven delivery or leave their roles


The most important question is this:


What are YOU going to do about it?


Owning our outcomes is a critical component of building credibility, confidence, and trust amongst our peers, leadership, and organization. When you see any of these behaviors and outcomes, immediate and thoughtful corrective action is necessary.


Building a strategy to translate these five red flags into

critical choice points for positive change

is the key

to a successful turnaround.



Don’t let your initiative become a rescue project.


Be vigilant in monitoring the health and performance of your organization and relationships with your peers.


If you ever need a quick check-in, Simona and I are always here for you.


Below is a little more about each red flag.






Five red flags signaling you have a Rescue Project on your hands


1. You don’t get straight answers to basic questions

This is your very first clue. It starts off slow and picks up momentum over time.


“Rakesh, how is our pet project going?”

- Oh, you know, plugging along. Everyone is doing the best they can.


“Sally, we should be about to deliver the first sprint, how is that going?”

- We are making a lot of progress, but, we miscalculated some of our story points, so we’re moving some things into the next few sprints.


Which over time turns into:


“Rakesh, where is the most recent update on our pet project? I need it for a Sr Leadership update at the end of the week.”

- Sally wanted to make some adjustments. She doesn’t agree with my assessment, so we are meeting in a few days to clear things up. If you need an immediate update, you should to talk to Sally.


When you hear vague answers and don’t get specifics about changes in delivery, scope, or timing, chances are, the initiative team is uncomfortable with the current trajectory.


Wake up and dive in. It rarely gets better without your leadership.



2. Your peers resent the prioritization allocated to the initiative

Clue number two. Don’t miss it.


What initially was a win that your initiative was awarded resources, budget and priority (and you were thrilled!) is now becoming a sore spot with your peers.


Typically, their discomfort comes from either not being aligned on the value of the initiative or the potential value is not being realized. In either case, pay attention and do not ignore their grumblings. A zillion years ago, a CEO advised me to listen to rumors and grumblings - because almost always they stem from some truth.


This is your opportunity to facilitate two important conversations with your peers:

  • What is missing from the initiative charter that makes them uncomfortable? and/or

  • What are the signals they observe that make them distrust the value of the initiative?

Clearing the air and getting to the root of their concerns is not frivolous. It is grounding for your organization and probably some truth serum for you and your team.


Actively listening and responding to your peers is one of your strongest tools to ensure your initiative doesn’t become a rescue project.



3. Your timeline is continuously being updated - in the wrong direction

It all makes sense in the moment.


New requirements. Unforeseen dependencies. Unplanned staffing issues. Your timelines slip. Then slip again. And again. Now you have a full-blown issue with the credibility of the team, the initiative, and your judgement.


A slipping timeline is by far one of the most chronic symptoms of an initiative heading down the troubled path.


Chances are, for some reason the basics of project management are not being delivered. Every risk, every issue, every change in scope, resourcing, solution, and design must be aggressively tracked and hounded.


Your team may not be able to immediately alter the trajectory of the initiative, but the team, you, and your stakeholders will have a thorough grasp of the issues, potential remediation plans, and impact to the initiative and company.


When you are aware and engaged with the details of why time is passing without results, you are in a much stronger position to reset the timeline - if needed - and gain alignment and support from the organization.



4. Your stakeholders disagree on corrective action

It’s like Poker: Draw, Hold, or Fold?


Whether it is a missed milestone, critical customer experience, or product defect, chances are, this red flag is actually on fire. If your working team, organization, and peers are at odds (or straight-out at war), your initiative has crossed the line into Rescue Project status.


At this point, it is critical to complete an assessment top to bottom and get to root cause for failure. There, I said it: failure.


Your initiative may not be a failure right now, but if you and your team don’t align on root cause and best-it-can-be action plan, you are leading a sinking ship.


Do not wait.



5. Your top performers start to have uneven delivery or leave their roles

Most team members want to be part of a terrific outcome, add another award to their shelf, and an awesome factoid on their resume. Who doesn’t?


When you see your top performers wobble and begin to leave, look no further than red flags One through Four.


Your team members are acutely aware of performance issues - amongst their teams and leadership. When an initiative begins to sink with no proactive viable solution, our top performers lose confidence.


Your immediate attention to your top performers’ concerns warrants one-on-one discussions and group brainstorming.


Keeping these key individuals engaged is critical to your organization’s long-term performance long after the initiative.


If you believe that Customer Experience and Revenue are directly correlated to employee performance, then disappearing top performers is an obvious long-term detriment to the company that is not easily remediated.


If you work in a culture that does not deeply connect employees to customers and revenue, it may be time to review when your organization performed their best and worst. Your research may reveal some new insights for you.

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