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I'm entering a management position for the first time in my career and am wondering how to mitigate potential reputational damage.

The company currently has a flat startup structure, but my promotion will change the organization to a more corporate chain of command. I have no concern about the technical advisory and business value I offer. After a year at this organization as a senior, I have earned the respect of the employees in every department.

I'm being expected to save a multi-million dollar project that is far behind schedule. The deadline for this project is maybe a month or 2 before my promotion. The status of the project has been known for a few months but management is now raising urgency. I don't believe that I can save the project. I may be able to execute a solution that prevents our company from being penalized by a contractual obligation.

Ignoring any shortcomings from the initial stakeholders; what is my best recourse as the new representative for a technology project that my team must eventually inherit?

I read The Phoenix Project last year and it's uncanny how similar my career situation is with that of the main character's.

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    So, the deadline will come, and then 2 months later you will be promoted? Or is it the way around? (currently it reads like the first) – DarkCygnus Jul 19 at 16:11
  • "what is my best recourse as the new representative for a technology project that my team must eventually inherit" you are bringing your team (how many ppl?) onto a project? – aaaaaa Jul 19 at 17:06
  • I just bought and read The Phoenix Project off the back of your offhand mention, OP - Thanks so much; its an excellent and insightful read. – Justin Jul 23 at 7:56
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I don't believe that I can save the project. I may be able to execute a solution that prevents our company from being penalized by a contractual obligation.

If the situation is dire then it would be best to be clear about that the moment you take the project (if not before).

You say you believe you can't save the project completely. However, you say you have an alternate solution that could save your company from being penalized (which is good).

I suggest you tell these things to your manager, along with your solution. Explain to them that the situation is already hard, but that you have an alternative, and show them what it is. I also suggest you have this baked-up (in writing, perhaps via an email after you speak to your manager) in case you eventually need evidence to support you.

I must say you should be careful here not to be used as a scapegoat; proceed with caution, be upfront and clear that this is a really difficult situation, and document everything specially the current state of the project and your prognosis/proposed solution.

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It is useful to remember that, as a manager, part of your job is to maximize company profits or other goals. For example, if the current plan will generate $10.000 losses, but you think you can bring it down to $5.000 losses, you just "made" $5K for the company.

There is no need to change your behavior significantly because the project is "failing". As always, start by:

  • investigating current state of the project (make documents that describe goals of the project, initial schedule and design, and current state, in writing)
  • estimate schedule, and potential benefits/losses to the company (in writing)
  • communicate these estimates to your manager (as much as possible in writing)

Most importantly, work with the team to come up with a plan to improve the situation. If the deadlines are non-negotiable (ask your managers in writing) then you'll have to cut "features" of the project. There is no way around.

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Focus on limiting damages, and getting the project back on the best footing possible.

You really want to walk away from this project by the end of it being able to demonstrate that you improved the course of the project after you stepped up to greater authority over it.

Consider how the world views pilots after emergencies: Pilots who land an aircraft after the engines go out mid-flight tend to be treated as heroes, and are not looked down upon for 'landing at the wrong airport'.

  • "Set the project down" as safely as possible, and pull it as far back from being a flaming wreck nose diving straight into the ground.
  • Now I'm imagining a system where we can bring dedicated pilots in on-demand to set planes down in emergencies :D – Hosch250 Jul 19 at 17:50
  • "... and are not looked down upon for 'landing at the wrong airport'" -- or in the nearest river. – Keith Thompson Jul 19 at 19:50

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