If a captain is supposed to go down with his ship, does a project manager have to sink with his failing project?
The expression that a captain is supposed to go down with his ship does not have to mean that it leads to his demise. It is meant to express that the captain has ultimate responsibility for his ship and his passengers.
As a project manager YOU have ultimate responsibility for your ship and your passengers. Your ship is the project and the objectives you are supposed to meet, your passengers are your team members and other stakeholders. Sometimes after your project or ship sets sail you learn that it is not exactly viable or sea worthy. Your challenge is to know the difference between abandoning it too early and hanging on beyond the point of no return. To stick with a failing project too long is really a waste of company time and money. The longer that you keep the failing project alive, the more time and money that you are taking away from projects which could be far more successful. It is also demoralizing to you and your team.
If you have tried everything within your power to lead your team to meet your project objectives and those objectives are truly not within the realm of possibility. Don’t go down with the ship, get a new ship! But first transfer your passengers to a newer and more sea worthy vessel.
Find a way to change ships. I don’t necessarily mean change jobs (certainly that is an option). I mean lead your stakeholders so that they can understand what is or is not possible. Help them reassess their goals. If the goals remain the same, help them to define some objectives which can be met. In this way you change ships.
It is more productive to stop a failing project than it is to keep bailing it out as it springs more and more leaks and sinks more deeply into the abyss.
Don’t go down with the ship, get a new ship!