How Does Project Termination Impact Project Team Members? Rapid Termination, 'Creeping Death', and Learning from Failure

Dean A. Shepherd, Holger Patzelt, Trenton A. Williams, Dennis Warnecke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Although extant studies have increased our understanding of the decision of when to terminate a project and its organizational implications, they do not explore the contextual mechanisms underlying the link between the speed at which a project is terminated and the learning of those directly working on the project. This is surprising because perceptions of project failure likely differ between those who own the option (i.e., the decision maker) and those who are the option (i.e., project team members). In this multiple case study, we explored research and development (R&D) subsidiaries within a large multinational parent organization and generated several new insights: (1) rather than alleviate negative emotions, delayed termination was perceived as creeping death, thwarting new career opportunities and generating negative emotions; (2) rather than obstructing learning from project experience, negative emotions motivated sensemaking efforts; and (3) rather than emphasizing learning after project termination, in the context of rapid redeployment of team members after project termination, delayed termination provided employees the time to reflect on, articulate, and codify lessons learned. We discuss the implications of these findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)513-546
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Management Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2014


  • Entrepreneurship
  • Failure
  • Innovation
  • Learning
  • Project
  • Termination

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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