Taking the title from an Everclear song of the same name, I’d like to look at how Project Managers, team members and customers react and handle things “When It All Goes Wrong Again.”  And here I’m talking about the project being done… not complete, just shutdown for good.  Bad news…period.

First, let’s look at what causes things on a project to go wrong to the point of no return.

  • Extreme customer dissatisfaction
  • Major budget overrun
  • Major timeline impact
  • Scope disagreements
  • Project personnel issues or significant personnel losses
  • Unmitigated risks
  • Lack of additional customer funding
  • Unexpected customer budget cut

No matter what happened or what caused the imminent shutdown, there is some action that still needs to be taken by the Project Manager and the delivery team, in general.

Closing it Down

When it comes to the project cancellation point, it’s not likely that the customer wants to spend another dime on the project.  They are either ‘done’ with the effort and are cutting their losses at that point, or they have chosen who they will be going with next to either start over on the implementation or fix your mess.  Either way, you can look good as you leave or you can look bad.  It’s always best to choose to look good and salvage whatever you can from the relationship. 

This project may never be resurrected, but your career path may take you to the customer or some of the customer team individuals in the future and how you handle this transition will weigh more than any future career accomplishments and resume bullet points.

The Handoff

So, how do you best handle shutting the project down, closing out communications with the customer and moving on?  As the Project Manager, if your not the issue and you’ve been keeping project documents and schedules in proper order then the customer likely has the latest of everything. 

However, let’s not assume that they do or that they’re organized enough on their side to know that.  After all, the shutdown could be entirely because of the customer and budget or personnel issues on their side.  Even if they are pointing the finger at the delivery team or organization, it still could be their own issues and they’re just not going to say that.  So let’s assume that they aren’t organized and have everything in place. 

Let’s assume we need to cover our own selves and give them everything.  At a minimum, I would provide the entire customer team with latest (possibly the most recent 3-4 versions or weeks even) of the following:

  • Status reports
  • Project schedules
  • Issues/risks lists
  • Budget and forecasting spreadsheets (abide by the customer’s previous requests on the distribution list for this)
  • Any change orders
  • Status meeting notes

Depending on the status of the relationship, it would be advisable to have a final closeout meeting that is attended by the entire delivery team and preferably the entire customer team.  Deliver the above items a day or two prior, set the conference call up and hold the final closeout meeting with the customer to review the materials and document everything in meeting notes that you then distribute to everyone who was on the call (asking them to review and revise those notes according to their own understanding of discussions from the meeting).


Be sure to take the opportunity – as the delivery team leader – to have a separate call with the main customer project sponsor.  Do your best to end things with them amicably so as to either place your organization in the best light to maybe obtain future or resurrected project work from the organization or to keep your reputation and future career goals from taking a hit from any customer feedback that might come your way.

More communication than less is always better – even when the project is going south and the relationship is ending.  Don’t leave anything to chance – it’s your reputation at stake.