WHY PROJECTS FAIL

While each project may differ from one another, the basis for managing those projects is typically the same. The following is a list of items I have seen in projects that were failing and for which I was asked to step in and turn them around, getting each back on track and implemented. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list which spans all projects. It merely is indicative of things I have encountered.


Poor Governance

Establishing the appropriate governance model at the onset of a project ensures decisions and approvals are made in a timely fashion. The following are examples encountered:

  • Critical decisions are not made in a timely fashion
  • Decisions are made and then subsequently changed or overruled by someone else
  • Decisions are not communicated to stakeholders and once implemented issues are identified
  • Rework is required as a result of poor decisions or as a result of being made by the wrong person
  • Poor decisions result in cost overruns, especially if rework is a result of a poorly executed decision
  • Decisions made without understanding of consequences or alternatives that may be available
  • Decisions are avoided because Stakeholders may be unhappy with decision
  • Decisions are made with lack of Subject Matter expertise

 


Poor Planning

Planning is a crucial phase for any project. Improper planning can lead to many issues effecting a number of areas of the project. The following are examples encountered:

  • Failure to engage Project Management activities at the onset of a project
  • Insufficient team members assigned to accomplish project
  • Inefficient use of capital resources
    • Over/Under allocation of resources
    • Adding more resources to late tasks
  • Lack of Subject Matter Experts assigned to the project
  • Poor Resource selection
  • Failure to plan or lack of Training for project resources
    • Technology
    • Processes
    • Business Domain
  • Poorly designed feedback processes
  • Lack of or non-existent formal scope definition
  • Failure to understand Operational Context – How a project will be used
  • Third party scope definition without direct consultation with those who will use the end project
  • Requirements are not vetted against project objectives – May result is missing objectives, underestimating costs, etc.
  • Assumption that all requirements will always work – More challenging problems may be overlooked or are not considered
  • Under estimating costs to make the project more attractive – Results in over budget projects
  • Estimates are not aligned with Scope of Work – Results in over budget projects
  • Allowing outside influences to effect actual estimates – Sales may pressure lower cost estimates in order to obtain a sale. This results in over budget projects
  • Failure to account for unknowns in estimates – Will likely result in over budget projects
  • Failure to document assumptions when estimating costs
  • Failure to estimate smaller items and only focusing on larger items – Results in over budget projects
  • Failure to do any planning at all and just diving into a projects execution
  • Underestimating a projects complexity
  • Excessive schedule pressure
  • Failure to account for non-productive time
  • Assuming that Project Planning is 100% the responsibility of the Project Manager
  • Failure to break down large complex plans into smaller more manageable plans
  • Failure to involve and obtain Stakeholder approval and commitment to the work schedule
  • Failure to prioritize items
  • Failure to account for cultural change

 


Poor Requirements Definitions

Requirements definition is key to the completion of a project. Projects with poor requirements definitions can lead to scope creep. I have encountered numerous instances of where the requirements were open ended and as a result prevented projects from ever being completed. Projects are defined as having a definitive start and an end. Requirements must be defined in a manner to prevent there being open ended scenarios.

  • Poorly or unclearly defined requirements (i.e. Vague or unmeasurable)
  • Open ended requirements – Will result in projects never ending
  • Requirements that have no bearing on the project being undertaken

Poor Project Management

Poorly managed projects are a recipe for failure. It is one thing to have a certification for Project Management, but it is totally different to have the experience needed to ensure success when managing projects. Merely understanding the basics or concepts is not enough.

  • Micro management of assets
  • Poor Leadership
    • Failure to maintain a cohesive team environment
    • Failure to address poor team dynamics
    • Allowing teams members to be bullied
  • Lack of defined process to accept deliverables related to requirements
  • Failure to control scope
  • Ineffective communications
    • Failure to keep Stakeholders informed
    • Failure to structure information based on audience
  • Poor or no formal Change Management process
  • Poorly defined roles and responsibilities
  • Failure to broker agreements among Stakeholders
  • Failure to include team members in estimates
  • Failure to plan for contingencies
  • Failure to manage Stakeholder expectations
  • Failure to have an appropriate Risk Management process
    • Failure to think ahead and foresee risks, identify triggers for risks, etc.
    • Failure to include team in this process
    • Failure to mitigate risks, etc.
  • Failure to establish an effective/feasible work plan
  • Failure to obtain acceptance for work plan from Stakeholders
  • Failure to monitor, revise and report on work plan to Stakeholders
    • Failure to mitigate overdue tasks
    • Believing that the late tasks will at some point, catch up
    • Failure to include points to verify status of work completed
  • Failure to maintain and control project documents – This should be a defined process which includes approval mechanisms when needed
  • Failure to report the true state of the project to executives
  • Failing to follow up in writing on decisions or discussions where someone is assigned a task to perform.
  • Failure to monitor Subcontractor performance

 

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