Navigating Chaos: The Crucial Questions to Ask When Inheriting a Project in Disarray

Prateek Sharma
4 min readJan 9, 2024

There are scenarios where I’ve been assigned new projects or ongoing ones that were already in progress. These situations arise when I finish a project and don’t have a new one assigned, or when I start working in a new company and am assigned an existing project. Or, I’m expected to handle projects that others might struggle with.

Now, the challenge arises when the project I inherit is in poor condition. The main task is to address this failing project. I have following questions in mind:

How do I approach this?

What corrective actions can I implement to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact my career and reputation?

Before commencing my work on any project, I try to seek answer for question, why me? I’m curious to know why I was given this particular project. Usually, I’m not put in this type of situation where management tries to place blame on me for a project’s failure. I’ve always been assigned projects that are in disarray but at least they’re not given to me as a way to deflect blame.

To begin the project, I prioritize connecting with every team member, from the top leadership to the frontline workers, through one-on-one sessions or workshops. These individual interactions allow me to gather insights into their roles and perspectives on the project’s challenges. By seeking their input and understanding their viewpoints, I gain a deeper understanding of the factors that have led to the project’s current difficulties. This practice of engaging in one-on-one sessions is not limited to my own team; I extend it to other team members across the organization, leveraging my experience to identify common themes and patterns that may have contributed to the project’s setbacks.

Before meeting with each team member involved in the project, I create a shared file location in the cloud, where participants can upload any document or resource related to the project. I ensure that each team member has a separate folder for their uploads to maintain confidentiality. I request that they upload all relevant documents, no matter how small or big, including one-page notes or lengthy reports. By doing so, we can easily access and centralize all project-related information for efficient collaboration.

After talking to the internal team and team members related to this project, I request the project manager or my seniors to introduce me to the vendor handling the project. I ensure that I met each member mentioned in the escalation matrix provided by the vendor. I try to understand their perspectives and identify issues causing the project to falter. In the meetings with the vendor, I make sure that I am not the only representative from my company or organization. I encourage the existing project manager or my senior to attend these meetings as well. I note down all the points raised by the vendor, often focusing on negative aspects and areas for improvement. They rarely mention positive aspects and often blame the lack of support for the project’s failures. I gather their inputs for further analysis.

After meeting individually with team members and vendor representatives, I review all the documents shared in the project file location. This helps me create a comprehensive status report that includes important details from meetings, project discussions, and reports shared with senior management and stakeholders. By reviewing meeting minutes and various documents related to the project, I identify the reasons why the project may be facing challenges and highlight its positive aspects. The report summarizes the pros and cons and pinpoints specific factors that might be hindering the project’s success. I then share this document with senior management for review and discuss the project’s status and necessary actions to address the challenges and capitalize on the strengths.

This comprehensive analysis to understand the project’s scope, management’s vision, resource allocation, budget approvals, timelines, and other crucial aspects need to be done at very beginning when project is going to allocated. Only after completing this thorough assessment and gaining a clear understanding of the project’s intricacies, I will initiate the actual work. This initial activity is essential for me to proceed confidently and effectively with the project implementation.

With full control over the project, I can make informed decisions about its future. This includes deciding whether to continue, curtail, or extend the project’s timeline and budget. Additionally, I can assess the need for extra support, resources, and training. Based on my evaluation, I can take appropriate actions to ensure the project’s success.

I don’t take over the project until I am sure I can handle it confidently. I keep the current project manager involved until I have gained the necessary confidence. That’s why I make sure to complete essential activities quickly, such as meeting team members, gathering project documents, and communicating with vendors. I also emphasize the urgency of these tasks to the team, explaining that I’ve accepted the role and need to take over from the existing project manager promptly.

To ensure a smooth transition, I always discuss with the senior management and make sure that the current project manager continue to work with me until I’ve shared my understanding with the senior management and received their approval.

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Prateek Sharma

A lifelong learner with keen interest in tech automation, finance & economics.