How Good Managers Bounce Back from a Bad Project

Failure is hardly a fun experience, and while we might appreciate mistakes as teachable moments, it can really be a struggle to recover from significant blunders.

Nonetheless, failure is a fact of life. It happens to the best of us. No person, team, or company is infallible, after all.

If you’re a project manager who has recently suffered a bad project outcome, it must be extremely difficult to regain positivity and push forward, but this is fortunately the only healthy course.

The Different Natures of Project Fails

Projects fail for a variety of reasons. Failure could stem from overshooting the schedule or the budget. Such a debacle is easier to grasp. Sometimes, however, the project may be completed within both budget and timeline, but it still ends up falling short of the client’s expectations.

Different factors could cause a project to fail. The most common are unrealistic goals, deficient planning and preparation, flawed time or cost management, poor communication, and even “acts of God” such as natural disasters or uncontrollable accidents.

Given the possibilities, you can understand why nobody is immune to failure. For this reason, it’s important to know how to move past it and continue forward.

Important Elements of Recovery

Bouncing back after a failed project is easier said than done, so here is a step-by-step guide for you on how to accomplish it. The first two steps involve a personal journey. You need to go through these before you can be ready for the final step, which already involves your team.

1. Assess the failed project

All projects should be assessed, no matter its outcome. Zero in on the small wins and losses along the way in order to identify your team’s strengths and weaknesses. Doing this will also help you make better judgments for future projects.

Reflection and analysis should just automatically be part of your routine as a project manager if you want to consistently improve.

2. Adjust attitude toward failure

Failure doesn’t have to be the kiss of death. You need to learn to view it as a growth opportunity instead of as a cue for your career farewell.

You can transform a disappointing result into something positive by having a proactive mindset. There is value in failure, which is why the “Fail better” quote from avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett (“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”) has become such an inspiration for many leaders and entrepreneurs.

It doesn’t mean that you should be content to fail over and over again. It just means that you should focus on improving yourself instead of beating yourself up over messing up. Frustration is natural, but you need to get over it. Letting the feeling linger will only set you back further and impair your judgment.

3. Advance toward solutions

Once you’ve done your own reflection and set your head back on straight, you can conduct a dialogue with your team. Cultivate a climate of openness and confidence for you to be able to better address problems with lasting solutions.

 Keep in mind that failures can be discussed in a constructive way. You don’t want your team maintaining silence when dialogue can lead to mutual improvement. To encourage proactive discussion, here are some principles to guide you.

4. Give them time to feel bad

People vary in emotional agility. Some people are more resilient and have very little hardship bouncing back. Others tend to nurse their wounds longer.

As the manager, you should allow yourself and your team time to wallow. Do not sweep the issue under a rug and then, full of false cheer, rally everybody to move on. Instead of coming across as motivating, you’ll seem uncaring and dismissive.

5. Discuss the failed project with a proactive position

Work together to figure out what went wrong and why, but don’t point fingers. While you definitely shouldn’t play the blame game, do not sugarcoat the mistakes.

Analysis is important, but do not linger too long in reflection. Shift the discussion toward future projects and the solutions that will help prevent a repeat of this disappointment.

6. Encourage collaboration on failure preventive measures

Do not lecture on what they should have learned. Instead, divide them into two groups, one discussing potential negative scenarios, and the other, coming up with changes to implement as well as contingencies to put in place to make the team stronger and more effective going forward.

Embracing Failures as Lessons

When you see failure as the starting point of progress and not as the exit point of your professional run, you’ll have an easier time bouncing back. Your team will get their cues from you. If it’s a positive lead they’re following, they will be eager to get back out there and prove themselves once again.

Salma El-Shurafa

Salma El-Shurafa

Salma El-Shurafa is an experienced Executive Coach and founder of The Pathway Project. She is a Professional Certified Coach by the International Coaching Federation and a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach from The Coaches Training Institute.

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