Get rid of Zombie projects

Whether you are a general manager or an area manager or a middle manager, you can have the same problem: zombie projects which keep you from advancing in the way that you have mapped out for the company.

End zombie projects. They consume many resources and lead you astray. It is in your hands, much more than you imagine. 7 Steps to get there.


Do you recognise this situation? : some activity that you thought had been finished, closed or discarded, suddenly reappears!

We talk about zombie projects when we have a project or an activity that is not over, that is always there, that is not completed, but that comes alive on a recurring basis.

But we had changed the priority !! We had decided that we were going to do A instead of B … and again B is there.

And do you know where the existence of these zombie projects has an impact? On your income statement, you can be sure: on productivity, on EBITDA, on the ability to respond to the market, your customers


Prioritizing means deciding where to put time, money, people, efforts. You have to choose “what”, because you cannot do everything. A good prioritization knows what to say yesto and what to say no to. Time, resources, money are limited resources. That is why it is so important to choose well, at each level of the organization, what the resources are dedicated to, and the means.

There is a large variety of situations that occur, and that have direct or indirect repercussions. All of them are within your reach to solve or partake in their resolution.

We are going to see 7 causes that lead to the existence of zombie projects, and which you can have an influence on:

  1. No clear criterion of prioritization:

  • There may be a criterion for prioritization at high level, which later does not allow to specify clearly and concisely what should be done and what not. If it is very ambiguous, it can give rise to different understandings across the different areas of the organization.
  • If, in addition, the projects require interaction among different departments, as is usually the case, the allocation of resources can be full in one area but null in another, causing this project never to see the light.
  1. Priority criteria defined at intermediate level:

  • When there is freedom of prioritization at intermediate level, without a joint vision of the impact, situations of very different valuations can be produced. This also implies a non-homogeneous dedication of resources, and that cause an “eternalization” of the projects that require collaboration from different areas.
  1. Questioning the prioritization criterion:

  • A project’s portfolio is defined based on clear criteria from the management point of view. But for different reasons, there is a “questioning” of decisions, which means that at a more operational level it is decided to maintain some projects not included in the portfolio active “just in case”, ” because it will be necessary, sure “,” because … “. There can be very different reasons, all of which with some truth, but that must be managed properly.
  • Some criteria are set but they are not followed unless they are efficient enough. And at the same time, each area is allowed to decide what it believes most appropriate. In this case, there is a questioning of the prioritization criterion and also ineffective tolerance, instead of reviewing if it is necessary to change the criteria.
  1. Questioning the project itself:

  • There may not be a conviction of the motivations of the project and the result that it is intended to achieve, on the part of the person assigned to lead the team to implement. This can bring about very different results, or again, an eternalization of the project that is not seen as necessary, nor as important. It prolongs the decision-making process and the activities, and there is no progress.
  1. Go / No-go unclear criteria:

  • The way that we have defined the rule of the funnel established for innovative initiatives may not be clear enough. It could cause doubts about the effective moment of applying the Go / No-go criteria, which will “delay” decisions and many initiatives that remain open at the same time, without resources for all of them. The innovation process is degraded.
  1. Criteria of Innovation versus improvement:

  • If there is not a good definition of the criterion and the number of objective initiatives in each “type of innovation”, it is possible to enter in a loop of incremental improvements, which become inefficient both in the quantity versus what they contribute, and in the way to be dealt with. And they can bring about the existence of initiatives that “never end”
  1. Lack of decision making:

  • There may be projects that stretch out, that cannot be “finished / closed”, and remain at a stage of consuming “follow-up” resources, which can lead to an almost complete neglect, but the project is kept for “image”. The main cause usually is the lack of important and effective decision making that the project requires for its correct execution.
  • Nobody dares to “close” the project in an official way


  1. Review your portfolio of active projects: you have to look at what is really being done, lift the carpet so that they all come to the surface!!, yours too!
  2. Review the prioritization criteria used and ensure that they are valid.
  3. Review, based on your strategy and with the criteria clarified, what priority each and every one of them has, and ensure that the classification is correct.
  4. Check that there is the same understanding of priorities among affected areas regarding projects that are outside your range of priority.
  5. Look over  Go / No-go criteria ensure that they are specific enough to enable decision making process.
  6. Confirm if these projects have to be done, and make them visible, or if not, then officially close them:
    1. With an official closing session
    2. By eliminating objectives with some of the teams involved: if someone has it as part of their assessment process, they will continue to promote it.
    3. By reassigning priorities / activities to the people who were dedicated to the project: time / resources have to be reassigned
  7. Plan to promote agile ways of working, and you will achieve a much more efficient execution in terms of productivity: with the dynamics of team work and the commitment that this generates, you will achieve visible results.

And you, do you have Zombie projects in your organization? Dare to manage them. It is not difficult.

Review your project portfolio periodically. You will come out earning much more than you imagine! Both in efficiency and checking how you communicate priorities. And apply this also with your own portfolio of activities!.