Project drift is a common problem when one project leads into another without a clear break, or when extra tasks, which were not identified at the beginning, are added to a project. If possible, significant changes of the latter kind should be treated separately as a follow-on project: otherwise they may not be properly resourced and this can have adverse consequences for motivation of the project team.
Example 4: A drifting project
The planned closure of a local authority service centre was closely linked with a community development initiative. The intention was to give the empty building to voluntary sector organisations in the area, for use as a community centre.
The transfer of services out of the building took place as planned but, at the point where the project manager was due to close the project by handing over the building to the community steering group, the building was taken back into use by the local authority to provide emergency accommodation for refugees. The project manager had to leave the project at this point, although the project was not fully completed.
To allow the project manager to return to other work and to avoid drift, the emergency use of the building was dealt with by another manager and the original project was deemed to have closed. The community development initiative was put on hold with a view to appointing a new project manager to complete the task when the building became available again.
If the drift has caused the situation not only to be unresolved but also with to have the prospect of continuing indefinitely, it may be impossible to carry out the normal closure activities.
If the project seems impossible to complete fully, it might be possible, and helpful, to consider closing off the phase of the project that has been achieved. For example, you might hold a review to establish what could be considered finished and what needs to remain in place to allow the next stages to progress. It is often helpful to use such a review to close off what has been done so far. This may allow a fresh start, to take on board new possibilities as if this was the beginning of a new project. This approach helps stakeholders to revisit fundamental questions about the purpose and goals of the project, to redefine the anticipated outcomes, and to set new boundaries for timescale, budget and quality requirements.