Project or Train Wreck?

locomotive wreck

Why is your project failing?

Train WreckIrrespective of whether you are a first timer managing a small project with minimal risk or a seasoned performer managing a complex strategic initiative, every Project Manager wants to know what could cause their project to fail. While some may think these are factors which can be controlled through issue management, others may term this as managing uncontrollable risks. There are no set rules for a project to succeed, yet there are many variables in a project which, if not properly managed, can doom your project for failure. As a project manager, your role should be to control such factors.

Let’s start with project initiation. Unfortunately, just initiating your project does not guarantee its success. Nor does it assure that the processes will become clear, the service will improve, or the product will enjoy a higher degree of customer satisfaction. Your project will always operate in a variable environment with multiple stakeholders having varied expectations from the project outcome. You will need to continuously measure, evaluate and manage these expectations to keep them aligned with the objective established for your project.

This leads to the most critical aspect of a project – the project objective(s). Studies conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI) shows that 80% of projects fail due to poorly defined objectives. As a Project Manager, you must evaluate your objectives continuously to make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable (Attainable), Realistic (Result oriented and Relevant) and Time bounded. Clear objectives help in keeping the team focused and stakeholders clear on expectations from the project.

A common factor for project failure is a poorly defined scope – lack of clarity on what’s in and what’s out of the project – set the boundaries. This is fundamental, as a clear and precise scope helps to easily identify and control changes and avoid any impact on schedule and cost.

Most projects operate in a dynamic environment with limited resources. Unavailability or improper capacity management of a project’s resources is another high risk to the success of the project. To manage projects successfully, the availability and capacity for all aspects of the project – manage the people, tools and systems that are required to fulfil the project objectives.

Last but not the least cause of project failure is the lack of trust, coordination or proper communication within the team and with stakeholders. As a project manager you need to understand and control how well the team functions – how its members communicate, interact, solve problems, deal with conflict, make decisions, delegate work, run meetings, and all other aspects of team performance. An effective organisation will always have clear lines of authority where every member of the project will know what he or she is expected to do to make the project a success. A badly informed group, with vague responsibilities and ambiguous levels of status and authority, is likely to be poorly motivated and will be slow to achieve results, costly to run, and extremely frustrating to work with.

So before you take shelter in the vast pile of project management best practices, try these simple approaches:

  • Manage stakeholder expectations
  • Establish SMART objectives
  • Define a precise scope
  • Build team cohesion
  • Communicate