When To Pull The Plug On Your Project

Pull the plug on the project

Recently, an article appeared in our local newspaper reporting the closure of a restaurant just a few months after it opened. The reasons given by the operator were that despite the positive feedback from the guests, the restaurant operation will not be profitable in the foreseeable future. This is due to the general price increase and the associated cost explosion.

Surely this is only one case among many. A project is terminated here because the operator sees no future in the current situation. But when is it time to consider a project a failure and end it? Is it enough that the budget has been used up? Should it only be abandoned when the project goal cannot be achieved?

What Leads To The Failure Of A Project

In the restaurant example given earlier, the reasons for closure are external influences. Increased energy, food and personnel costs cannot be passed on to the guests due to the current generally poor economic situation. In addition, guests are staying away because they no longer want to or cannot afford to visit the restaurant. Increased costs are therefore compounded by reduced sales. A restaurant should at least make enough profit to cover the costs of rent, energy, merchandise, and personnel, and to provide the landlord with a profit from which he can make a living. If this goal is foreseeably not achievable in the long term and if adjustments are not possible, it is right to draw the line and end the project.

In our example, the restaurant operator alone is responsible. It gets more complicated in larger projects with many project participants. A decision should be made at the latest when it becomes clear during the course of the project that the path actually taken will not lead to success because the project is already far behind schedule, essential team members seem to lose interest and, last but not least, there are technical pitfalls.

In order to turn the project around, all project participants would have to work together. However, in such a project that is on the brink of collapse, the harmony in the team is lost by the wayside for a long time. If the harmony in the team is missing, the first thing to suffer is communication. The team works past each other, no one wants to be to blame for the failure of the project. If the lack of communication is followed by stubbornness, prejudices and faulty conception, the road to the abyss is almost unstoppable. The last obstacle is often only the already invested and irretrievable capital, the lost time and the shame of a failed project.

Is There Still Hope For The Project?

To decide this, you should ask yourself the following key questions:

  • Have you made changes internally or externally that could jeopardize the project?
    You may be able to reverse these in order to still save the project.

  • Are the project goals too optimistic or even utopian?
    If they are too ambitious, corrections must be made to the goals at this point at the latest.

  • Does the project team work? Can it work together effectively?
    Clear up possible problems or think about replacing parts or even the whole team.

  • Why is the schedule not working out?
    An in-depth analysis may uncover the reasons - and possibly a solution.

  • Who can help?
    An outsider may have a completely different view of the project's problems.

Recommendation of our support:

Risk management should always be part of your project planning. This way you can identify problems early and intervene before your project fails. Merlin Project helps you manage risk. The software has its own attachment element "Risk" that you can attach to any activity, assignment or resource. Evaluate the risk of it occurring and think about a possible solution ahead of time

When Is the Time to Let Go?

Despite all your efforts, sometimes you realize that nothing helps anymore. There is no more forward or backward in the project. It cannot be completed. Then the moment has come when you, as the responsible project manager, together with your project team should draw the line and bury the project.

There is an old proverb that says "Better an end with horror than horror without an end". Ending a project is a lot like ripping off a Band-Aid - pulling it off slowly doesn't make it less painful but only prolongs the inevitable.

Let go. By ending the failed project, you give everyone involved an opportunity for a fresh start in other projects and with new tasks.


In the initial example of the restaurant closure, the operator decided to take this step because, despite all the investment in time and effort, he was not making a business profit. Pulling the ripcord before becoming insolvent is courageous but also the right decision at this point.

As painful as a failed project is, failure is not necessarily a bad thing - if you learn from your mistakes!

Posted by Stefanie Blome on September 22nd, 2022 under Project Management
Tags: project kill quit

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