What is a zombie project?
A zombie project is neither dead or alive, it never ends. Stakeholder wants it but not enough to prioritize and just enough to keep them going.
They might even deliver a little, but not enough to create real value. They took resources, people, money and time, but not enough to be a problem for you or anybody.
Why should I care?
Zombie projects may seem ok but they hurt, they hurt and we let them because we used to it.
First, if you have a zombie project on your responsibilities you already know that you simply check on it once in a while, just to be sure that it still where it should be: Living but not much.
It cost you time, even if it's a little, you have to put energy on it and it means that you can't put it anywhere else. You are wasting your time.
Second, clients who wait for a zombie project to deliver will wait quite a while. They never end, and never deliver the right value. Even if the client says it's ok to have a little it's not. In the end, they will blame you for not delivering. You are wasting their time.
And finally the resources. It's not much, some hours there, some money here, and soon enough it cost you a lot of resources by the time. For what? Overprice pieces of something, outdated or changed more than they should by the time passing and scope redefining indefinitely. You are wasting resources.
How to find them?
Zombie project is some kind of breed. They make themselves quite, and barely visible, that what keeps them alive. The fewer they are exposed the better their chance to stay in progress.
Overprice/underperformanceBeing in the living dead land have a consequence that is paying a lot more than we should. Because time is rarely played in our fortune, the more time you spend the more it cost.
Bad structure / governanceThe structure of the project is somehow fuzzy. Letting people take action without a lot of consequences. It's making the project spend time and resources where it might not be ok for more spotlight projects.
Restrain resourcesThey are no resource to spare. They keep resources as much as possible to live as long as possible. If they spend at a normal speed, the project could be terminated with no more resources.
Infinite scope creepBecause the project never ends, the change keeps coming, make the project still going in an infinite loop.
How to kill them?
What's curious about zombie projects it's there is a remedy! But you might want to kill them too. It ends with a choice, a strategic one. Either you save it or kill it.
Kill a zombie project
To kill a zombie project you must be ready for battle because they are not easy to let go. First, you should find why is this project end up neither dead or alive. You need to force them to the light by giving them more resources or better governance oversight. They will be forced to defend themselves against other project and might not survive that battle.
Save a Zombie project
To save a zombie project you will need a more strategic approach. You should find what stakeholders want the most and then cut the scope to the minimalist value acceptable. Agreed with a stakeholder that when the value will be delivered, the project will be closed and the new project will have to make the line like others.
That kind of project is never easy to deal with but they are ways. In the short term we choose to spare them and let them live, but the longer they stay alive the harder it will be to kill them.
The sooner you find one the faster it should go.