Why Projects Fail
Your company has devoted scarce Senior Management time and effort to analyse your market, your competitors, the social and the political environment and has developed your updated strategic vision.
This vision will be the cornerstone of your company strategy for the foreseeable future and Senior Management want to initiate the changes required of the organisation to realise that vision. You intend to use your Project Management capabilities to deliver the business outcomes but how can you guarantee project success and avoid project failure?
You know in order to achieve the strategic vision you will have to co-ordinate major changes within your company. These changes will be both challenging and far reaching and you aim to do this through a coordinated program of work. A program comprised of individual projects which aim to implement change and realise goals. Together these individual projects will make new company vision achievable.
Projects comprise a set of activities that follow a schedule of work within a specific period of time, quality and predetermined budget to achieve an objective. Projects seem easy to implement especially when ideas and plans are set out at the beginning. Ultimately an organisation may believe that it is only a matter of execution to determine the success of your project. This may be the case. But this does not explain the high instance of project failure. Projects that fail despite creative ideas and carefully laid out plans? Research by the Standish group in 2007 (Standish Group's Chaos Report) describes two-thirds of IT projects as being "challenged" and failing to fully deliver on their original objectives.
How can this be the case when organizations spend a lot of money defining and implementing project management capabilities and training their staff in Project Management techniques, standards and Methodologies?
As you are aware, projects entail a lot of hard work and expertise particularly on the part of the Project Manager. But this is not enough to ensure that a project will reach its objectives in the end. Even projects that employ the best Project Manager still fail. This is because a successful project requires more than skills and competence of a good Project Manager.
In an organisational setting, projects fail because of several and different reasons. Each project team has its own dynamics, skills and competencies. As the project team manager, you must know how to predict failure even at the initial stage of your project. What are the common reasons for project failure?
Vague Goals and Objectives
Your project is at risk if you and your team members do not have a clear idea of the outcome that you want to achieve. What is the purpose of the project? Why does the organisation need it to be implemented?
Without a purpose, you will not be able to identify accurate goals and objectives. More often than not, the project fails to undertake basic initial stage planning processes. This initial planning is critical to the success of the project. Defining what do you want to achieve and by when? Why is it important? How can it benefit the end users? And how does it contribute to the overall program of the organisation? When an organisation fails to answer these questions, the project is operating with weak foundations.
All projects encounter challenges during their lifecycle but if there are no basic fundamentals to draw from there is insufficient guidance to direct the actions required to get the project back on track. Lack of Involvement among Stakeholders.
Who exactly are the stakeholders? Stakeholders can be the board of members of the organisation, the project sponsors, the executives, the employees, the end-users and the community if applicable. They are the interested parties who will benefit in one way or another from the project outcome. They can be dependent on the project results which they will use for their own projects. If they fund the resources they may also have an overriding influence and power over the project.
Stakeholders should be involved from the project initiation to completion. They should be involved to validate the project goals, objectives, strategies and processes. Stakeholders should be engaged to express their specific requirements from the project. What each stakeholder have to say about the project plans and expected outcome should be captured. Will the expected project result address each specific need? Failure to do so risks the project in its entirety.
Who will use the project in the end if stakeholders have no use of the project outcome? It is a basic question yet many projects fail to deliver in this aspect.
A key aspect of stakeholder management is ensuring that they are communicated with in clear, concise, consistent and customised way. However all to often the focus is on communicating the implementation of the project. Instead a stakeholder communication analysis should be undertaken at the initiation of the project. The output of this can be used to develop a shareholder communication plan This plan should cover all phases of the project and all stakeholders. Clarity of communication is tantamount to a message being clearly received and understood. Adopting a project mantra of "I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand" it is important to get stakeholders actively involved in the communication and to elicit feedback throughout the project.
Project Team Selection
This is one of the most crucial aspects of a project. The project team members will make the plans a reality. They are the ones who should ensure that each and every piece of your project draws from established project foundations. They stitch everything together so that the whole project meets its goal. As the Project Manager, you are responsible for engaging with your project team members. You decide what skills and competencies you require for a particular role.
Sometimes, the person who seems to be the best candidate cannot actually deliver. And at other times, the person who lacks the right credentials is the one who will make your objectives a reality. Hidden personal agendas can also assist in undermining your project and chance for success. Stakeholder favoritism may try and fit particular staff into an available role but lack of competency in a required area can sabotage your project despite careful initial project planning.
Projects can cost significant amounts of money and the organisation knows this. If candidates are assigned to your project despite lack of qualifications and you allow this to happen, your ability to execute a project is hampered. Why? Because how can you expect a project to flow smoothly when your team members does not know what to do? Worse, you put your credibility as a Project Manager on the line.
Lack of Accountability
As you include the stakeholders in the project from beginning to end, you give them the opportunity to own the project. Ownership is a vital factor in your project implementation. It ensures accountability. But, why is it important?
A project will definitely encounter a lot of challenges throughout its execution. Setting up a project culture where certain individuals or groups are encouraged to take the responsibility for any issue resolution will ensure the smooth running of a project. With this ethos, the whole project group steps up to resolve the problems instead of apportioning blame.
By providing accountability you have eliminated finger pointing along the way. Finger pointing, which can creates chaos and disruptions. In fact, many projects have overrun or failed because of this. It is not only a question of the Project Manager's supervisory capability. It is more of a question of maturity and competency in project management. It takes a competent, mature and confident Project Manager and team members to claim accountability and take corrective actions.
Inadequate Time and Resources
Many projects start without adequate financial planning or the presence of a valid business case. Project Managers must also avoid thinking of transferring this responsibility to the finance department believing that they know better.
It is very difficult to fully estimate the overall cost of a project in advance. Typically project budgets are either too costly or inadequate. Time allocation also plays a huge role in project planning. Any excess or shortage will affect the project. A project may deliver the desired outcome. However, the inability of the Project Manager to meet the budget and schedule as planned may mean that the project is seen as a failure despite this.
All projects have their own specific goals and objectives. Although varying in size, strategies, processes and outcome they have a lot of things in common. Projects are initiated to deliver an outcome within the restrictions on cost, time and quality. Failure to meet these basic requirements is equivalent to project failure.
No Project Manager wants to fail yet many don't utilised the full potential of project management methodologies. Many organisations opt to save on a Project Management consultant's costs yet allow potential failures to run their projects.
Organisations need to understand that projects need expertise, knowledge and skills to address present day challenges. It does not equate to your incapability as the Project Manager. Instead, it is a necessary complement to ensure relevance of your project, hence guaranteed success.
To reduce the risk of project failure:
• Spend time in the initial planning of the project clearly defining what do you want to achieve and by when?
• Ensure all company stakeholders are on board throughout the project lifecycle.
• Analyse stakeholder communication needs comprehensively and communicate in a clear, concise, consistent and customised way.
• Build a culture where stakeholders and team members are encouraged to overcome project challenges rather than point fingers.
• Be realistic with what can be achieved with time and cost constraints.
How Wired can help
If you are concerned about the status of a project and believe that it may not achieve its intended outcomes, Wired Consulting can undertake a Project Health Check to provide an impartial view of the health of your project and any corrective actions required.