Why do projects repeat the same failures

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Projects Fail

That some projects fail comes as no surprise to anyone. But to those of us that have been involved in the monitoring, coaching and audit of projects in a range of companies and industries it is surprising to see the same mistakes repeated often. We will review the areas that are common and see what can be done to break the cycle.

Using the lessons already learned

If you have feedback from earlier projects, then always use it. Where lessons learned has been recorded it is a pointless exercise if that work is not put to good use for future projects. The lesson learned process can be improved in time but the cycle has to be started somewhere. When this cycle is established then there will be improvement to projects over time. Recording quantitative information against projects can give quicker progress. The ever present “we all got on well as a team” should be a given, but even if it is not projects rarely start off intending to fall out as a team.

Set achievable scope

The scope and deliverables should always be qualified against the time, budget and level of quality expected. It is difficult to challenge the expectation of delivery of a final product; timescale may have been selected by market pressures or as a key aim from a high level executive within your organisation. Often project managers will accept the impossible task. The lack of success and real impact on delivery time, cost or quality is not highlighted until it is too late.  Although it is difficult it is much better to highlight the impossible earlier in the project. Early in the project something can be done to adjust expectation, or plans adjusted for more resource, or budget increased if that could address the concern.

So many projects are doomed as they start by failure to manage stakeholder expectation. Failure to accept the early issues raised by the project manager to senior management means the project has next to no chance of success.

Communication between all parties

Communication is one of the core elements in any good project. Project customers and the sponsor needs to inform the project of possible changes and external impact. The project team and project manager need to communicate and share issues and risks. The core of good communication in a project does not stop at the production of a weekly status report. Many stakeholders might not read the reports; after all they are busy doing their own day job. The whole project team including all stakeholders need to agree a process that allows them to stay in contact and inform each other during the life of the project. You all have a common interest in the success of the project so this should be an easier task than it often appears to be.

A significant proportion of projects fail due to poor communication.

Inexperience Project Managers

Many organisations make the mistake of appointing a key business person to run the project. Operational management has an overlap of skills with project management.  But many of the tools and techniques are unique and so experienced stakeholders do not instantly make good project managers.  Accidental project managers should not be to blame for projects failing.

Use of the method, not “used” by the method

Project teams can spend too much time of the red tape set up around the project. The purpose of the project is to deliver the solution to time and budget. It is not to serve the methodology or please the bureaucratic governance set to control projects. The controls used should be used to assist the project not get in its way.

But Projects with no controls are not likely to satisfactorily complete their goals. A balance has to be struck that allows just enough control to help the project deliver.  But not too much that will slow it down or stop it.

Recording lessons and other data for the future

Actively record lessons learned to reduce future project failure. Store data in such a way that future projects can get a head start.  This will avoid falling into the same traps.

Applying some or all of the approaches above you will reduce the failure rate of projects. It will not address all issues but it will make a solid start.

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