Resurrecting Zombie Projects

zombieWhat is a “zombie project”?

It’s a project that lingers in limbo, neither alive or dead. For whatever reason, the work has been completed (or mostly so), but the final product has not been launched, printed, presented or used by the client.

We’ve always had a couple zombie projects in the works at any given time, and bringing them back to life (or killing them forever) is always a challenge. Whether it’s a Web site that’s been built and coded, but never launched by the client, or a brochure that’s been designed, but never released, these projects lurch around half-alive, costing mental energy and project management resources, waiting on the day they will come back to life, or die forever.

The first question is the most basic: Why Do We Care About Zombie Projects? Assuming we’ve been paid for our work by the client, why should we care whether the project is ever launched? We care for two reasons: First, we care about our client’s success, and getting a new, well-designed site launched or direct mail out will help their business (else why have us design it?). More business for our client generally equals more business for us.

Second, it’s a point of pride. Every designer likes to see his or her work out in the world, doing what they were designed to do, and it’s a bit frustrating for clients to sit on a final product for months, and sometimes even years, without releasing it.

There are three tactics we use to deal with zombie projects:


  • The elixir of life: The best method we’ve found is to schedule a “re-kick-off meeting” with all stakeholders in the project. Either in-person or via conference call, we gather everyone together and discuss what can be done to get the project to the final stage. Often this is enough to spur the client to finish and release it.



  • Dismemberment: If we are unable to bring a project to life via a re-kick-off meeting, we will try to make use of the design components from the project in other work for the client, offering to achieve the initial objectives of the project with another deliverable. If the project can’t live as it was originally conceived, maybe it can be re-born as a new project. Warning, this sometimes leads to additional zombies!



  • The shotgun: If a project can’t be resurrected or re-used, sometimes the only answer is a quick death. We zip up the files and send them to the client with our condolences and try not to expend any more energy or project management time on it after that. Some projects just can’t be saved.


Do you have any zombie projects roaming around your computer? Let me know in the comments.

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