There's this project the place I work at, let's call it Project X for short. Everyone who's been on that project ends up leaving the company for one reason or another. I've been on it at one point, was off it, now back on it to some capacity, but my problem here is that no one wants to actually work on it in this small company of 100 people or so.

It's the oldest project in the company. At one point they used it to raise funds. But, with the amount of people who've left and with how far ahead the rest of the industry has moved, I don't see any way that this project will ever be a success.

Talking to upper management you get mixed signals. Some are saying it's important to complete it while others say that they agree, it's old, there are other opportunities for the company to pursue and that we should give it this mythical "ONE LAST GO!" where somehow we finish it all up (despite how in the past 2 years that hasn't happened) and then we'll be good to go. We'll just shelve this project for good and go off to this magical land of Narnia where we work on better projects.

How exactly can this project be turned around when no one wants to actually touch this project, and the longer someone's been at the company the less they want to be involved?

EDIT After reading up on the musings around why no one wants to work on this project and some of my reflections, I wouldn't say there's a single reason but here are some reasons

  • This project is a big project for the company, but the customer here has EXTREME requirements that are WAY above what this new technology is currently capable of in its current form, makes it feel like no matter how much time you'll ever spend on this project it just wont matter

  • Lots of technical debt / knowledge loss. Some people have left the company for various reasons who started the project, mostly because they've been at this company for 3 - 4 years and decided let me score some nice FAANG sign on bonuses which leaves those working on it scrambling to figure out what they did

  • This project, in its inception was cutting edge state of the art, but now its 2 years later and the tech is behind the curve, so why work on something thats not really going to push your career along oh and see point #1, you won't ever satisfy the customer whos now expecting the latest & greatest (After all, Didn't you spend 2 years on this?????)

  • New projects come along, management thinks that this new project will help the company really pop off, some of those in the upper echelon have actually began to slowly and steadily prepare everyone that this customer we've got might just walk away and we should have the attitude of "whatever, we've got better projects"

  • Some new managers have gotten hired and they look at this project and boldly state that "This project is about to turn a corner, watch me do it!!!" Only for them to come up w/ideas that have been tried, or technologically impossible due to the nature of nascent tech that needs time to develop, you've got a situation where those on the ground don't have faith in new solutions and just want this project to sunset

  • 1
    Are you asking how you can make this project a success, regardless of whether "the rest of the industry has moved on" or how your company should handle this project? Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 12:28
  • 12
    I'm astonished that nobody has asked or answered the obvious question. Why does nobody want to work on this project? Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 16:44
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    ...my problem here is that no one wants to actually work on it... Why is this your problem? Are you responsible for assigning people to it? Are you being held responsible for it's success in some way (is it going to impact your pay/a promotion/review/etc.)? Did something bad happen last time you were on the project? It's hard to judge the usefulness of the answers without knowing what (if any) consequences there are or what you can/can't do.
    – BSMP
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 20:45
  • Has any of this project been delivered to a customer? Has it been promised to a customer? Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 22:49
  • @DJClayworth I'd say that there hasen't really been a deliverable, this is more of a project where the startup gets thsi customer, fund raises off a tech demo to them, but this customer here keeps asking for more and more things and isn't being forthright w/the tech shortcomings so at this point you've got those in upper management guessing what needs to happen
    – TheM00s3
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 23:20

5 Answers 5


My take is you possibly don't have the full picture. I have seen multiple projects that will never end. That's not their point. Their real point is to attract funding or to tick a box in a compliance or other business form or something else.

They can be frustrating to work on if you treat them like a real project with an end in sight, but they're fine if you just slog away at your tasks and don't worry about the rest. It's not your project or your company, it's just your tasks to do.


Before you start a project, anyone reasonable would estimate how much it would cost, what profit it would bring, and how much damage not having it would bring. You start the project if it seems to be the best use of your limited resources.

And often, the numbers change during the project. Estimated cost to finish it should go down but sometimes doesn’t when it’s harder than thought. Estimated profits could change. There may be better opportunities. You seem to have reached a point where finishing the project isn’t worthwhile.

At that point the question is not how to rescue the project, but how to let it die. The problem is usually that some decision maker has to admit they made the wrong decision.

  • This comment does not address how the OP is to proceed with his assignment from management who are not taking responsibility.
    – paulj
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 12:20
  • 5
    The sunk cost fallacy is surprisingly hard to overcome.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 13:46
  • @paulj OP's first task on the project should be to assess the business case for the project continuing, document it and ask for someone who signs the checks to agree that the project should stop/continue based on the assessment.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 13:08

There are two big red warning flags that you have mentioned.

  1. Its not technically possible to meet the customers needs.
  2. Lots of tech debt on a 2 year old project.

Neither of these are software issues that the developers alone can fix.

The wider business context is key. If your employer is performing this work for the customer on a time and materials basis, and the customer is happy with the ongoing development outcomes and costs - then it would be normal business practice for your employer to enjoy the revenue stream, whilst raising the projects unrealistic goals in a gentle but concerned way.

If its a fixed price delivery, your company has big sunk costs, and is constantly trying to move towards delivering the project for a major payday - in the mean time soft pedalling the problems to the customer, saying that it will get fixed - then be very wary. These projects never end well for the people involved at the point when the music stops.


Politics aside, if you have no choice but to accept it there's only really one course of action. Do not try and just start working on completion of the project, don't accept any existing plans etc. (otherwise it becomes your problem, not just your project!)

  1. Identify EXACTLY what the project is contractually required to deliver. (A lot of these long running projects were completed years ago and no-one noticed)
  2. Determine the total cost required to complete the project.
  3. Determine who has to pay that money.
  4. Ask whoever has to pay that money if they want to pay all that money.
  5. If they say yes, do your job as a project manager to the best of your ability
  6. If they say no, ask what they want to do instead.

NOTE: This answer was posted against the original question, before the clarifying edit.

For the following plan, you will need to form a collusion of those upper managers who believe that, for the overall benefit of the company, project "X" should die.

Somewhere in your company is a potentially successful and very profitable project "Y", just now about to seriously start claiming resources.

Place project "X" and project "Y" under the same line management.

Rename project "X" to be "Z". Don't waste any more resources on it.

Rename project "Y" to be "X". On completion, claim that project "X" is finally finished. Bonuses and promotions for all involved.

Cancel project "Z". Nobody cares about it; hardly anybody has even heard of it.

As an added bonus, those managers who never lost faith in project "X" are now seen to be vindicated, so they should be happy too.

  • 2
    This won't fool anybody. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 16:50
  • 4
    I disagree -- they sound awfully stupid. Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 19:54
  • Renaming and combining might also work to get people on the project instead of killing it. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 0:02
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    @Michael McFarlane: Agreed. My answer is a gross outline of the solution. You don't just rename projects and hope that nobody will notice. The actual plan would have to be more complicated, involving combining and separating projects, moving features between projects, reassigning talent, etc. But if I put all that in my answer then no one would finish reading it. Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 0:18
  • Isn't this merely a tricky way to change the scope of project X?
    – Igor G
    Commented Feb 9, 2022 at 2:36

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