Put Your Zombie Project to Rest

Zombies are great for television entertainment, but none of us want them in our workplace. Have you ever found yourself working on a project that “just won’t end already”? Uugh! You have discovered the illustrious Zombie Project!

Zombies are literally defined as the walking dead. A zombie project is no different: the project itself is dead, making no progress, but for many reasons just keeps hanging around. I’d like to share some tips with you on how to implement an exit criteria so that your project doesn’t turn into a zombie.

How do you know if your project has become a zombie?

  • Have you ever completed all the work on a project, but there was no closure? It just didn’t feel as if it ended the right way?
  • What about that project that you’ve been working on for months? It’s highly organized with monthly meetings, status reports and email correspondences, but instead of completing the project, it morphs into a routine of standard meetings about progress. And, let’s face it, these meetings are not documenting your progress because the project is not moving forward.

It’s easy to slip into either of these scenarios and create a zombie project. We’ve all fallen victim to it at one time or another during our careers. But there is a way to avoid zombie projects. Have you ever heard the phrase, “begin with the end in mind”? What does the end look like?

Your project exit criteria outlines the conditions that need to be met in order to close, cancel or move to the next phase of your project. Typically the exit criteria is documented in your project charter. When developing your exit criteria, be specific as your criteria must be measurable. I’ve found added success in my projects when I provided quantifiable exit criteria that will verify that the project work or deliverables have been completed and are of acceptable quality.

Examples of generic project exit criteria include:

  • Completion of the project phase
  • Completion of project deliverables
  • Documented approvals of deliverables
  • Completed documents & reports
  • Contractual obligations have been met
  • Reassignment of staff
  • Exhaustion of all funds

If you keep these pointers in mind as you’re developing your exit criteria, you should stay on a clear path from the dreaded zombie project. Most importantly, make the criteria specific and measurable.

There is value in the word DONE

Take it from me, I have appreciated the experience in the joy of saying “I’m done” when a project is finished. By not defining the exit criteria, you never know when to stream the confetti. Working toward a finish line improves the quality of your work, provides opportunities for feedback and evaluation for improvement on the next project.

Perception is reality

As a project leader, you want to avoid zombie projects because:

  • They waste time for everybody involved;
  • Can lead to a frustrated team, and diminished credibility for you as a leader;
  • Can diminish team morale; and/or
  • Can lead to staff disengagement.

The key to avoiding zombie projects, is to establish your exit criteria, which will allow you to lay your project to rest and give you peace of mind.

What has been your experience with zombie projects? Share your experience in the comments section and lets compare notes.

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