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When to exit a project

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By Chanel van der Westhuizen

All projects reach a stage where the Project Manager will be required to exit the project.  A project can exit during Closure Stage, when the Project Manager can ensure that the project has achieved its planned deliverables and objectives and ownership has been handed over to the business.

Or a project may exit when the Project Owner and Project Sponsor make a formal decision that the project needs to be terminated, due to the project not adding value or are feasible to the business.  What ultimately matters when exiting a project, is for the Project Manager to accurately plan for closure, whether it is post project completion or during project termination in other project stages of the project.

Projects are intended to create a result that can be measured. On achieving this result, the end of the project is reached and therefore concludes in project closure. Here the project manager is expected to perform a post implementation review, in order to formally exit the project.  The process of post implementation review may emphasise issues, that should be collaborated with all future and forthcoming projects.

The Project Manager might also be required to exit a project during other stages of the project lifecycle, due to factors beyond his/her control.  These factors might include any of the following reasons:

  • Projects do not align to the Strategic Business Plan of the company;
  • The project objectives that were planned and identified during the Planning Stage of the project can no longer be met;
  • The key stakeholders such as the Project Owner and Sponsor do not buy-in to the project any longer, which results in the Project Manager not having the support or the finances to continue the project;
  • The project success has been measured and it was ascertained that the project will not be completed successfully and is therefore no longer feasible to business;
  • The projects will not add value to the intellectual property of the company;
  • The monthly cost analysis reflected that the Return on Investment (ROI) will not be met as planned;
  • A project could have been planned, but did not include the deliverables or the key stakeholders to ensure efficient customer support after the implemented product and therefore can result in the project not meeting customer expectations;
  • The market conditions have changed and therefore impacts the end result of the project;
  • When the project costs or timelines rise significantly;
  • The problem or solution for the project might be too diverse or the technical aspects of the project might be too challenging and will require capabilities and skills that are beyond those of the project stakeholders. In this case the projects might be outsourced to subject matter experts from external companies, but if the company is experiencing a significant cash flow problem, this project might be terminated due to the affordability to implement the solution;
  • Business does not have an efficient Prioritisation Model or a formal monthly Portfolio Review Committee that can assist with prioritising projects within the company. This might cause for the business to take-on several projects simultaneously or projects with a less important priority.  Within any company, you will have projects that require more time, effort and resources and if a certain project is preventing the project manager to allocate required resources to a higher priority project, it might be better to exit the projects that have an inferior priority.


When the Project Manager needs to exit the project during closure or during any other stage of the lifecycle of the project, a lessons learned workshop needs to be conducted at all times, as a direct evaluation of project successes and failures is critical for future project success, as the business would not want to relive the mistakes, but rather repeat the successes of the past.

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