Why do so many Projects FAIL?

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Why do so many Projects FAIL?

It’s no secret that a huge number of Projects FAIL. Project FAILure does not have to be a total tragedy with catastrophe effects and a written off or aborted Project. It may be the Project lost money or did not return the revenue intended or required, It could be the goals and objectives were not meet, the client’s expectations were not aligned with the delivered outcome, the Practical Completion date could not or was not meet or a number of other circumstances leading to the Project taking a nosedive and becoming a misadventure. 

It is estimated: 68% of Technology Projects FAIL. 17% of Large IT Projects go so poorly that they threaten the very existence of their Corporation. 36% of Projects do not meet their original objectives and business intent. 28% of Agile Projects completely FAIL. 37% of Business Process Change Projects FAIL to delivery benefits. 70% of Organisations have endured at least 1 FAILed Project in the past Twelve Months and 35% of Businesses have abandoned at least One major Project in the past Three Years. 

So Why Do Projects FAIL or FAIL to achieve what they were envisioned to accomplish?

1. Engaging the Wrong People

Too often personnel with the wrong skill set or lack of subject matter expertise are assigned to the Project either through an absence of the “Right” people being available or lack of understanding from The HR Department or Senior Management.

Simply selecting the first available person to fill a role rather than waiting for the person who is best qualified is a fast track to disaster on any Project.

As is failure to provide the team or individual team members with appropriate training specific to the Project requirements (i.e. Technology in use, Business domain, processes to be utilised, etc.).

All too often a great person within their field (i.e. Software Developer, Chemist, Electrician, etc.) prospers at their Profession and Role. Based upon being a successful in their field, gets promoted to the position of Project Manager and is now responsible to manage the types of projects they normally worked on. The difficulty is they often are not provided with training in Project Management and may also lack many of the soft skills the job calls for and as a result they struggle and frequently FAIL despite previous successes in their area of expertise.

2. Unclear Objectives and expectations

It is vital and essential for the Project Manager to ensure that the requirements of the project are defined early and are as detailed as possible. Poor defined objectives are a sure-fire way leading to project FAILure.

In countless cases of project FAILure, a poorly defined or non-existent Scope of Works leads to constant revamping and redesigning of the project since stakeholders are continually adding to the scope and providing input into what they envisaged or imagined the project was designed or proposed to do. This leads to limitless rework and delays, and can often end up causing project slippage or complete and utter failure.

A concise and detailed explanation of what the project is actually looking to achieve along with clear defined assumptions, exclusions, schedule, terms and conditions and other specifics of The Project, agreed upon and formally signed off by all stakeholders for the Project will confirm they are on board and are in agreement

It is equally important that clear roles and responsibilities for all Project Team Members are established and understood early as FAILure to do so often results in confusion, errors and omissions internally within The Team.

3. Unachievable and Unmanageable Workload

Most fruitful and successful organizations have more leads, opportunities and project enterprises than they can ever dream of fulfilling. It goes without saying that many of these businesses embark upon and take on many more Projects and developments than they should in order to maximise revenue of the business.

This consequently results in over worked and unhappy team members.

Where there are commitments and obligations to be fulfilled and insufficient personnel to complete project work without the luxury to engage more resources on the project, pushing a team OR individual that is already exhausted into doing even more overtime to meet the deadlines results in poor quality workmanship and often failure to delivery to Quality Standards or the imposed schedule.

4. Scope Creep Not Managed

FAILure to address excessive scope volatility and/or uncontrolled scope creep almost always results in loss of revenue through completing additional work not defined or required on the Project.

Excessive unplanned changes or scope creep are sure to result in FAILure of the entire Project.

Once you have defined accurately what work is required under The Project, Contract, SoW, etc. It is essential you freeze it and obsessively safeguard against all unplanned changes.

Any and all changes must be planned via a Change Control process and approved via a Change Control Board or other Responsible person in writing.

Subsequently then the PM can issue a revised Programme, Budget and any other required and justifiable amendments to the Project. Otherwise, you will likely miss your target and have an unhappy customer.

5. Inaccurate Estimations

Very often The Project Team are handed a “Lemon” or “A Hand Grenade”, in terms of a Project that has lost money before it has even started.

The causes for an inaccurate estimation is endless, a few examples are;

Budget or costs are cut to secure a contract

All too often, the Estimator FAILs to build in a contingency budget or allowance to handle unknowns

A manager, sales agent, customer or other person often bullies the team into making unrealistic and unachievable commitments

The assumptions used for estimating are not documented, justifiable nor validated

Estimates are often provided and committed too without a clear statement of works

6. Poor or lack of Communication

In Project Management, Communication can be said to be “The Glue that sticks everything together”. Without that glue the Project will fall apart.

Many internal and external Stakeholders on a project will recognise the Project Manager solely by his or her communication. They will distinguish The PM by how their voice derives across over the phone, how well the Project Manager can hold the floor and keep the attention of Team Members in a Meeting or how well-written his or her emails are.

If the project manager is not a clear and unambiguous communicator across multiple mediums, chaos and confusion will follow, resulting in a FAILed or less than perfect Project execution.

7. Absence of Leadership

The Project Manager is deemed to have the greatest impact of success (or FAILure) on the outcome of a project. 

An effective PM must be a natural Leader whom possesses a strong strategic vision of where to go and the ability to articulate that vision to Stakeholders on all different levels.

He or She must also have the capability to drive the initiative and not just manage a process. 

For a Project to succeed The PM must have the respect of his or her Troops. A respect that is earned through blood, sweat and tears not claimed.

8. Poor or non-existent Project Tracking and/or Forecasting

Believing that although the team is behind schedule, they will catch up later is a delusion and misconception that many PMs on a “Sinking Ship” often force themselves and others to believe. Only in rare circumstances does this illusion ever materialise.   

Monitoring and Controlling is an often forgotten or overlooked phase in The Project Lifecycle as is updating and ensuring forecasts are accurate.

The list of inadequacies in the area are endless. Several examples are;

FAILing to monitor employee, sub-contractor and/or vendor performance at regular intervals

Believing that a task reported by a team member as 90% done really is 90% done

Believing that because an individual was assigned a task earlier in the Project, they will remember what they were asked to do and when to do it

Creating a schedule and FAILing to review, revise and/or update it. Or if it is updated simply filling in percent done, which is an arbitrary number more times than not plucked out of the air.

FAILure to update P&L Summary. Or if the P&L Summary is updated the true and correct Costs to Date and Costs to Come are not known and percentages are once again conjectured or guessed.

9. Poor or no Methodology or Proven Approach

Many Industries are still lagging behind on the use of established and recognised project management methodologies, tools, tactics and knowledge.

FAILure to adopt and adhere to a suitable project methodology all too often is the fine line between a prosperous or botched Project.

Many Organisation whom do employ repeatable approaches, often fail to tailor the method to suit the Project.  Using waterfall in an organization where the business has an agile mentality leads to FAILure. As does using Scrum without the logic and acceptance of the larger picture also will inevitably lead to FAILure. 

A project management methodology ought to be part of any establishment’s determination to be consistently successful within The Project Management discipline. The methodology however must be personalized to the organization’s people, culture, industry and projects.

10. Risk management

Effective business development requires taking on calculated risks. Without Risk there would be no Reward.

For project managers, risks that develop into authentic or genuine threats can lead to FAILed projects.

Therefore, it is essential Project Managers focus on strong risk management policies and procedures.

PMs must never underestimate the looming threat of Risks and must also understand it is impossible to remove all risks, so we must try hard to identify and manage the said risks to prevent project FAILure. This involves identifying, quantifying, and managing all possible known risks.

Ray Turner 

Principal – Ray Turner Consultants


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