4 minute read

When to Kill a Project?


Any project is a temporary endeavor that must end on a given day. A project is an investment in a business objective or in some change initiative that is valuable from the sponsor’s perspective. The project’s output needs to justify the money spent by the sponsor and time and energy spent by other stakeholders. Projects should not be done just to keep an organization or person happy or busy.

For successful project delivery, the project manager needs to have proper resources, an understanding of business and technology complexities, lessons from previous projects, and an understanding of the client’s business and objective of the project. It is not easy or sometimes it not feasible to understand all the dimensions at the start of the project.

Projects are progressive in nature. The more you work, the more you understand. More you understand, you discover the client’s need and then work towards it. However, sometimes a project does not progress due to some reasons including lack of direction or too many changes in the project by stakeholders. Due to this project come to a stage where stakeholders are not interested in the project or the sponsor is not willing to finance anymore. This is the time you should consider killing a project.

Conditions to Consider for Killing a Project

A project manager should think of recommending killing a project under the following circumstances:

  • The sponsor does not find it worthy to invest any more
  • The sponsor does not have money to invest
  • Technology has changed so much that delivering outdated solution does not make sense
  • A competitor has come up with better solutions that your project’s product will not be able to provide
  • Community around the project see the project as a challenge to their quality of life and the sponsor is not able to convince them
  • The objective of the project is already achieved by other means

Role of a Project Manager in Killing Project

Project monitoring and controlling processes provide input and indicators about project health regularly to the project manager. A seasoned project manager can notice changes in the project, can take corrective measures immediately if the project is going off track. If there are too many changes from stakeholders during the project progress, the project manager needs to determine how much is too much or what is the tolerance limits? The project manager needs to discuss with the sponsor and other important stakeholders if there are too many changes or the project going off track. The project manager has all responsibilities to bring back the project on track and revive it. If a project is closed before its objectives are met, the project sponsor and project manager are the most affected stakeholders. Why? Because a loss of money for the sponsor and reputation is at stake for PM! The project manager makes a convincing recommendation based on progress data available from the monitoring and controlling process.

Decision Making

A project manager should never decide to kill a project. The person who was sponsoring has the right to make the decision. Before you execute the sponsor’s decision to kill a project you need to discuss with relevant stakeholders like customers, department heads, end-user, legal experts and discuss the status of the project and discuss all possible solutions to revive or deliver partially. While taking the inputs from these people PM can discuss the possible alternatives with the sponsor and help him in making the best possible decision.

How to Close a Project?

Starting a project is a ceremony like a birth ceremony. Killing should not be unceremonious, although it is death. You can follow the steps below to close a project:

  • Invite all key stakeholders involved in the project for a meeting.
  • Inform them of the decision of the project board and sponsor.
  • Prepare a release report and ship work in progress product or partially completed product to the customer.
  • Schedule a lessons learned session with stakeholders (duration of this session depends upon the size of the project and number of departments involved)
  • Inform your vendors and close procurement work awarded to them.
  • Document lessons learned and archive the same.
  • Call the project team formally and inform them that the next working day onward they will not be working on this project.
  • Inform your information security, physical security departments so that they can provision accordingly.
  • Inform your finance department about final payments.
  • Settle the final payments of your employees, resources, and vendors.
  • Inform your legal department about any pending or new litigation due to the project
  • Formally declare that ‘project is closed’
  • Prepare follow-on recommendation

A project can be closed once the objective is met or it gets terminated half-way. Whatever the case it will have an impact on the morale of human resources working on the project.

Possible impact because of killing a project are:

  • The blame game between team members or departments.
  • Low morale of the project team.
  • The risk appetite and risk attitude of the sponsor may be affected.
  • Many a time opportunity for those people who were part of the killed project is limited.
  • Apart from this, it can have impacts on competitors, organization politics, and revenue.


There are two processes in the project closing process group in PMI’s Project Standard called Project Management Body of Knowledge 5th Edition. One process is Close Project or Phase which is part of the Project Integration Management knowledge area and the second process is Close Procurements which is part of Project Procurement Management knowledge area. In nutshell above recommendations are extracts of the best practices of these two processes.