So many projects, so much mismanagement. We can probably all think of projects that have “failed” – perhaps processes got worse rather than better, maybe they were canceled because of cost overruns, or perhaps software application was launched with fundamental errors. Even with project management software, projects often wind up taking longer (much longer) than planned and costing more than budgeted.
How do you know when – and why – a project has failed? In many cases, the reason for failure is obvious. However, the definition of failure isn’t always clear: one project with a significant delay might be described as a failure; yet another, with a similar delay, might be seen as a stunning success. A project is considered a failure when it has not delivered what was required, in line with expectations. Therefore, in order to succeed, a project must deliver to cost, quality, and on-time; and it must deliver the benefits presented in the business case.
The requirements for success are clear and absolute – right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Because the second part of our definition of success is that the project must be delivered “in line with expectations.” If key stakeholders agreed that a project had to exceed its initial budget, the project may still be considered a success. Likewise, if a project delivered everything that was in the detailed project designs, it may still be considered a failure if it didn’t include vital elements that the key stakeholders needed.
Reasons for Project Failure
Too many projects simultaneously with resource constraints
You have resources working on more than one project, with tight schedules, it only going to take one delay to affect your project.
Solution: Resource mitigation, make sure that resources you have a skill set that can be harnessed to keep the project to stay on course.
Not Assigning the Right Person to Manage the Project.
Typically during resource allocation, most of the effort is focused on finding the right resources other than finding the right project manager. Indeed, too often “project managers get picked based on availability, not necessarily on skill set.” However, an inadequately trained and/or inexperienced project manager can doom a project.
Solution: Choose a project manager whose skill set(s) matches the project requirements. Augment with a contract PM if the skill set is not available internally.
Failing to Get Everyone on the Team Behind the Project.
It is important to have a kickoff meeting, to set the expectation of the team and people affected by the project. Projects are doomed to fail because they didn’t get enough support from the departments and people affected by and involved in the project.
Solution: The project manager should have a kick-off meeting for the project team and delivering a presentation about the project, responsibility and get everybody fired up. The project manager should hand out a responsibility assignment matrix so all project team members know what they are responsible for.
Not Getting Executive Buy-in.
Solution: An executive of the organization needs to own the project from start to finish and be personally vested in its success. When [a project] has no clear head, things tend to fall apart.”
Having too many projects on the go at once.
Most managers think that they can get more done by starting all projects at once, but in reality, it’s counterproductive. Multitasking slows people down, hurts quality and, worst of all, the delays cascade and multiply through the organization as people further down the line wait for others to finish prerequisite tasks.”
Solution: To stop these productivity losses, reduce the number of projects, by reducing the number of open projects by 25-50 percent can double task completion rates. Considering smaller projects – It’s more difficult to change direction in a large cruise ship than in a tugboat. So, think about whether a proposed project’s scope and delivery timeline are appropriate within your business environment. Delivering projects in smaller pieces is not always appropriate, but it’s worth considering.
Lack of (Regular) Communication/Meetings and making timely decisions.
Communication is the most important factor of successful project management. Without regularly and clearly communicating, the project will fall apart.
Solution: Have short weekly meetings with the team on a day and time that work for all — and stick with it. If the project is clearly not going to be able to deliver the revised requirements, don’t ignore this. The sooner you communicate this, and the sooner you make a decision about the project’s future, the better.
Not Being Specific Enough with the Scope/Allowing the Scope to Frequently Change.
Any project that doesn’t have an ultra-clear goal is doomed, scope change is one of the most dangerous things that can happen to your project. If not handled properly it can lead to cost and time overrun.
Solution: Define the scope of your project from the outset and monitor the project regularly to make sure you and your team are keeping within the scope. And to avoid delays and deviation from the original scope, track change requests separately from the original project scope, and provide estimates on how it will affect the schedule — and get explicit customer/stakeholder approval for each change.
Providing Aggressive/Overly Optimistic Timelines.
Project managers are often trying to keep their clients happy. But missing deadline after deadline will only lead to distrust and aggravation on the part of your client.
Solution: Good project management software will allow you to manage many work items and the bandwidth of available resources, it’s still important to add a buffer — some extra time and money to your project.
Not Having a System in Place for Approving and Tracking Changes.
Often, success or failure of a project hinges on the changes that occur after it begins.
Solution: Having a clear process that must be followed is the best way to ensure the pertinent details — how much it will cost, why it is necessary, the impact on the overall project — are known before the change is approved.
Don’t babysit, it’s very common for in-experience project managers to treat their job like an enforcer, policing the project team for progress and updates. There is also a cultural aspect to how projects are baby-sat – it is a hieratical issue in some work culture where project manager babysit their projects symphonic issues as the project manager is babysat by their manager or steering group.
Solution: Instead of babysitting the project team, let it be known from the start at the kick-off meeting that there will be regularly scheduled updates for the duration of the project.
Expecting Software to Solve All Your Project Management Issues.
Solution: Choose project management software wisely — something all members of the team will be comfortable using. Then make sure to train users properly and set up a system for tracking projects.
Not Having a Metric for Defining Success.
Solution: The very first thing a project manager should do is ensure s[he] understands what the end-users will consider successful completion of the project. Understanding what will make a project successful.
The wrong business requirements have been addressed
If your project is set up to deliver the “wrong thing,” it may be considered a failure even if everything is delivered on time, within budget, and to the required quality.
Solution: If your project doesn’t deliver what the organization really needs, this will inevitably negatively affect how it’s perceived. This is why it’s so important to conduct a thorough business requirements analysis.
It’s not possible to deliver the business case
If your business case can’t be delivered, then you have an impossible task. To make things worse, after the business case is approved, the delivery of other things then becomes dependent on your project. This makes changing your project’s deadlines, budgets and expectations more difficult.
Solution: When you write your business case, make sure you think through the project requirements in detail, and identify what’s needed to ensure that you can deliver those requirements. Don’t just list assumptions – make sure you explore them thoroughly. Review other, similar projects, so that you don’t forget any major items. If you’re delivering a new system, review your hardware and interface requirements. If you have major risks, include sufficient contingency resources (people, budget, and time) to manage those risks appropriately. Remember that implementing change is hard!
Implementation is poor
If you deliver your project competently, you’ll avoid poor implementation – right? Unfortunately, it’s not that clear. Delivery can be complex. You need to manage risks, issues, and scope; manage your team; and communicate with stakeholders.
Solution: Delivering change is hard, and not everything is in your control. Therefore, being competent isn’t enough for a good implementation, but it’s a good start!
For a project to be successful, it’s not enough simply to manage your project competently and deliver a good quality product. To avoid failure, make sure you have identified the right business requirements, created an achievable business case, put strong project governance into place, managed a high-quality implementation, focused on benefits, and monitored your changing environment.
Above all, be sure to manage the expectations of your stakeholders, so that they stay supportive. After all, these are the people who will declare your project to be successful – or otherwise.