Reasons for Project Failure
“My project is closing down,” a disappointed colleague told me the other day. She was working on something confidential, and I didn’t know anything about it. While she still couldn’t share the details, I could tell she was very upset at the team being disbanded and all their work to date being mothballed.
Unfortunately, this happens a lot. There are plenty of reasons why projects stop before they scheduled to, or fail in another way. As project managers, we simply have to accept that this is a risk we take when it comes to working on a project. However, some of the reasons why projects fail is completely within our control and we make a massive contribution to whether the project is a success or not. Here are 5 reasons why projects fail – which ones do you think you can control and which ones could happen to you regardless of your project management skills?
Reason #1: Ineffective / Improper Project Scheduling
Failing to update your software for project scheduling is a key reason why projects fail. It’s easy enough to do, but we often see that unsuccessful projects have schedules that are way out of date. The problem with this is that the schedule doesn’t reflect the actual project status. No one can track the real time activity because the team is managing from a plan that has no grounding in reality. If the dates are wrong and tasks are missing, then it’s impossible to know what is really going on and what work is completed .
On top of that, if the schedule provides data for timesheets, the team won’t be entering meaningful data about how they are spending their time. How can they, when the tasks they are working on might not even appear on their timesheets because they aren’t in the plan?
All this means that the project manager can’t keep track of what is being done, so the project gets more and more out of control until it ultimately fails.
Reason #2: Poor Scope Management
Even if the project manages to complete and close on the forecasted end date, it might not deliver everything that expected. A project can still fail even if it hits the deadline, because if it doesn’t give the stakeholders what they want it has been a wasted effort.
Scope management helps keep the project on track. Everyone will be able to see what is currently included in the project scope and those that are responsible for making decisions can see what the implications of those decisions will be. For example, if you add more pages to the website you are building, it will take longer to design and build. If you take tasks away from the project because they are no longer required, then you can complete the project faster and probably for less money. If you don’t do the analysis related to changes in scope you could end up with a failed project that doesn’t deliver anything the stakeholders asked for.
Reason #3: Inefficient Risk Management
Most project managers understand that risk management is something important, but many complete a risk log at the beginning of the project and then think that’s enough. It’s not! You have to actively manage risk throughout the project.
The trouble with improper (or no) risk management is that it means the risks are likely to cause problems. These can set your project back, leading to issues with hitting deadlines, managing scope and quality and ensuring the team has everything they need to work successfully.
Reason #4: Lack of Resources
This might not be within your control, but projects sometimes fail because they aren’t given the resources to succeed. Your job as project manager is to work out what exactly required to deliver the project successfully. Then ask for it!
You might not get everything you need, but then at least you’ll know what sort of position you are in. You can talk to your project sponsor about what you can realistically achieve with the resources you have to hand. Once they understand why having the resources you have asked for is essential to complete the project on time successfully, they may change their mind about the additional team members or budget that you requested and make that available to you. Of course, they might not, and you’ll have to decide if you think it is worth carrying on with the project when you know you don’t have the people or other resources available to do a good job.
Reason #5: Change of Leadership
Management changes are another reason why some projects get close before they finish. A change of leadership brings with it a new boss, different expectations and different priorities. The new person in charge might not consider your project worth working on. They may adopt a different strategy that requires new projects and yours no longer fits. As a result, your project gets closed prematurely.
Technically, I suppose, this isn’t failing, it’s simply readjusting the company’s priorities so that essential project resources (like you) work on the things that really matter. However, it can feel as if the project has failed for the team members involved, so you should spend a bit of time with them reassuring them that this new change of direction is a good thing as it frees you all up to work on strategic initiatives.
So, as you can see there are reasons for projects to fail that the project manager can influence, and reasons where the project manager has no control and management at all. What you have to do is to focus on the areas that you can manage, and give your project the best possible chance of success by doing a great job as a project manager. Lead the team effectively, manage risks, keep your schedule up-to-date and manage scope changes. Then you’ll be in the best possible position to deal with the unexpected, should your project get into difficulties.
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