Main image of article Rebounding from Project Failure
At some point in your career, you will probably experience the frustration of a project that fails to meet its objectives. In metaphorical terms, it rapidly becomes a car wreck. How you respond to such a career setback, both internally and externally, can mean the difference between a swift rebound and the beginning of a downward spiral. In such situations, one thing is certain: the sooner you take action, the better. Follow these tips to mitigate the damage of a failed project, salvage your reputation and get your career back on track.

Manage Your Internal Reaction

Your “inner voice” can give you the psychological stamina to begin the repair process immediately, according to Dr. Paul Stoltz, founder and CEO of Peak Learning. That’s to say, an awareness of your emotional response to adversity can help you cope, seize control, and approach the situation with what he calls “realistic optimism.” “Don’t retreat or freak out,” Stoltz warned. “Carefully analyze the evidence because things may not be as bad as they seem. Then, turn and face the storm.” By viewing setbacks as not only temporary, but also experiences for learning and growth, you can develop a resilient mindset and rebound quickly from occasional setbacks or mistakes. Having the right perspective can keep you from blaming others, complaining or sulking—which will only make things worse.

Conduct a Realistic Assessment

Allen Square inherited failed projects and a host of other problems when he became the CIO for the city of New Orleans. Based on his experience, he believes that beleaguered tech pros should perform a realistic assessment of the situation, their strengths and their role in the project’s failure. “Take stock of the project’s status and where things got off track,” said Square, who is now the CEO of consulting firm Square Button. “Trace back each task to see who was accountable and the root cause of failures so you can make corrections going forward.” If you did everything you could to ensure success, and have the necessary skills and experience, get back on the proverbial horse. Otherwise, transfer to a project that plays to your strengths, so you can address your weaknesses (and rebuild some equity among your peers) before you move on to a more challenging assignment.


Even if your teammates and PM need additional time to negotiate a long-term recovery plan in the wake of project failure, keeping silent will only make matters worse. Instead, engage all stakeholders in a dialogue, and describe clearly what went wrong (as well as what went right). Seek input and explain how your team stabilized the situation. Communication and stakeholder management have been cited as key success factors in the project recovery process because they help to restore stakeholder trust and alleviate anxiety. Why wait to get started with any necessary repair work? When the going gets tough, the tough need to start talking.

Do It Right

If you fail again at the same company, you may have to step down or change employers. On the other hand, a resounding success on your next project can give you a clean slate, restore your confidence, and allow you to put your past in the rearview mirror. The bottom line: Choose your next project carefully. “It’s critical to keep your promises going forward,” Square said. “If you are part of the recovery team, focus on taking one step at a time and monitor every team member’s progress daily. Because the best way to revive your career after a failed project is to succeed with what’s on your plate.”