What Can I Do When a Project Ends Abruptly?

We spend a lot of time thinking about getting projects but not so much about ending them. However, projects can stop precipitously for any number of reasons. Budget cuts, grant termination, organizational restructuring, and staff turnover can all result in the evaluation being a casualty. What was central to your life a month ago is now a gaping hole and the implications for your work plans and cash flow can be significant. What to do?

1.      Don’t leave angry

However acrimonious the situation, maintain your own professionalism, keep your cool and avoid drama. Take a broader systems perspective. You may lose this project but consider what the new environment may offer in the future. Demonstrating your resiliency, creativity, and business acumen will stand you in good stead in the long run.

2.      Do something with the pieces

As Steve Maack suggests, although the client has changed their strategic direction, it may be possible to salvage some of the work already completed. They may still be able to use the logic model, tools, interim data analyses, or database structures. Another option might be to interpret the data you already collected by preparing an info-graphic on What We Learned. It is worthwhile trying to negotiate an exit strategy that benefits both sides.

3.      Remember your colleagues

Your colleagues can help fill the gap as they may need short-term help with their current work. Offer to do what you do best at reasonable rates and help them meet their timelines. There are lots of independent consultants who have weathered this particular storm. They may be able to help you.

4.      Plan for more a varied work flow

Thinking about risk management in the middle of a crisis is tough but consider a more balanced portfolio in future with steadier, more predictable work. Plan your work based on duration as well as content and type. For example, you could have one long-term project (1-3 years); one medium-term project (6 months); an ongoing gig like university teaching, coaching or capacity building; and occasional one-off projects like satisfaction surveys, workshops, and webinars.

Most of all, hang in there. You’ll be busy again in no time!

Gail Vallance Barrington

Originally published in the Independent Consulting TIG Newsletter, Volume 7, Issue 4. June 2016.

Barrington, G. V. (2012). Consulting Start-up & Management: A Guide for Evaluators & Applied Researchers. Los Angeles: SAGE.

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