Blog POST 

Why Projects

Fail

Well let’s start by defining what a project actually is. A project, according to Prince2 is:

“a temporary organisation that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed business case.” 

PMI defines it as “A temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique result”.

Read On  ↓

Over the course of my career I have come to learn that a project is a set of activities and tasks that come together to achieve a satisfactory result according to the needs of those who want that outcome. It is not rocket science and everyone is involved in projects in some way. If you have ever planned a holiday you have been involved in and possibly managed a project.

In order to avoid some of the potential failure causes we need to understand what a project needs in place to stand a chance of succeeding and it is a lot simpler than you would expect…

  • A directing/governance/decision making body
  • Someone to manage the project
  • Someone/team to deliver the outputs needed

Now what can go wrong, what could cause our project to fail to achieve its stated aims?

I’m going to go with a list of the top 5 that I’ve encountered most frequently over the years.

1. Communications
2. Lack of clearly defined goals & expectations
3. Flawed plans/planning
4. Poor/non-existent stakeholder management
5. The wrong project manager

Before we start looking at the list, senior management within the organisation hold the key. They will set the tone for how the organisation operates, how it communicates and have the authority to ensure that the project approach is understood by everyone involved.

So starting at the top:

1. Communication is key to successful project delivery.

Poor communication covers a number of aspects ranging from leadership not engaging with or too far removed from the workforce through to nobody knowing who is involved in the project. It’s not even that uncommon to find that there are projects being undertaken that nobody knows about. If there is a lack of communication between the top of the organisation and the bottom then how can the top possibly understand what’s happening on the shop floor or trigger projects that meet a shop floor level need. Organisations that have an open communications policy tend to have fewer problems in their projects and communication inside the projects and with stakeholders will also be more effective.

 

2. Lack of clearly defined goals leads to a lack of understanding of what has to be delivered.

Would you attempt to build a house without having defined how any bedrooms were needed? You would be surprised how frequently that kind of thing happens, often because there is an assumption that we all know what is being done. A business justification for the work being undertaken is critical and goes alongside a clear definition of the end result. Make sure that the owners of the end result and those who will be using it, are involved in the definition of what is to be delivered and throughout the development process.

 

3. Flawed or over zealous planning can spell disaster in any project.

Lack of planning will lead to a chaotic project as the plan is there to give the project structure. Avoid being too dogmatic about your plans. Plan what you can with the information you have and avoid guesswork and assumptions because they will bite you in the butt. It is far more effective to start by planning the high level roadmap to your goal and then allow the detail to emerge as more information becomes available. A plan is indispensable but change is inevitable so plans should be viewed as changeable not sacrosanct. The act of planning is critical and should involve those who want the end result, those who are paying for the end result and those who will be delivering the end result.

 

4. Before embarking on any project you need to know who the stakeholders are.

These are the people and groups who are impacted by what you are intending to achieve or can have an impact upon what you are trying to achieve. Make sure you know them, they know you and that there is ongoing dialogue between you. If you fail to manage and communicate with this group effectively don’t be surprised if they find fault with whatever you deliver.

 

5. The wrong project manager.

This is someone who has often been promoted based upon technical ability to the position of project managing projects in the technical arena they have just been ‘promoted from’. They often don’t get training in the skills of project management and lack the social and communication skills needed. It’s not that they aren’t capable but they have been stitched up because the organisation doesn’t have an understanding of what project management entails.

 

Always remember that projects are the currency by which the organisation gets what it wants and needs to move forward. If they are not working effectively that will be having a negative impact on your bottom line. Not a good position to be in and so easily avoidable.

Gerry Steinhauer

Blog Author

Gerry is director of Xplain Training and has over 20 years experience leading project training for organsations from FTSE100 companies, public and third sectors and SMEs.

You can contact him on Gerry.steinhauer@xplaintraining.co.uk or
0777 5525194

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