Friday, 13 May 2016

Why Projects Fail and how to address?

The objective of the Be a Better Sheepdog Blog is to help you improve the success of your Projects. So I thought it was a good time to take you through some well publicised reasons for Project failure and point you back to previous posts where I have given some guidance on addressing to give you the best chance of not suffering such a fate and having to employ the strategies suggested in the cartoon :-)

Project Failure - Strategies for handling

No Business Benefits from the Project

The Business benefits of a Project are defined as a key success criteria for the Project Sponsor. 

This failure point can be addressed by:
  1. Ensuring the organisation undertakes the right projects which should deliver sufficient benefits and return on the investment made
  2. Ensure there is a good business case produced for the project during Initiation
  3. Keeping the business case under review during the project life-cycle - see more in this post on PRINCE2 principle Business Justification
  4. Producing a Benefits Realisation Plan during the project execution phase to ensure the detail on the benefits in understood, when they will be measured and who is accountable
  5. If changes to operational business processes, team structures and responsibilities are involved in achieving the benefits, plan this carefully considering the human resistance to change as described in Newton's first law of motion

Confusion during execution on what the Project should deliver

  1. The Project needs to have clear ownership via a Project Sponsor and augmented by other roles to form a Project Board Using the analogy of a ship, the target port (objective) for the captain and crew (project manager and team) should be set by the ship owners and the route (plan) should be confirmed when proposed by the Captain (project manager)
  2. By the end of Initiation the Project should be properly defined with the outcomes, acceptance and success criteria clearly understood and agreed by both Owner and Team
  3. As you progress through the project life-cycle, lower level detail will be defined with agreement on a set of detailed requirements. Don't forget that you need to have performed a good Stakeholder analysis to consult the right people when developing these requirements and always consider the risk of communication problems leading to mis-understanding 
  4. Should anything change with regard to the project scope and deliverables, the Project needs to have a good Change Management process to ensure the change is assessed and impacts understood including project viability

Project takes more time and cost than expected

The failure reason could have multiple causes. However some basics which can trip up the Project and thus should be a focus to get right are:
  1. Solid planning and estimating considering that you may need to break the plan into Stages due to Planner's Droop
  2. Continued monitoring and control of progress against plan with appropriate metrics taking remedial actions as necessary
  3. Analyse the Risks and ensure suitable mitigations / contingencies are in place Keep these under review.
  4. Remember that any Assumption you make in planning is a Risk so look to confirm these as soon as possible during Project execution
  5. Issues are likely to occur even in a well run Project so have a good process to manage them
  6. The Project can be derailed up by elements which are NOT delivered by the Project team but are essential for success. These are called External Dependencies and need careful management
  7. Always consider the human side of your Project Team. Do you have the elements in place to achieve a high performing project team?
  8. The Project can be derailed by uncontrolled change. Ensure that there is a clear definition of scope first and then instigate a good change control process to ensure that the impacts of a change are understood and agreed before it is accepted. Ultimately the owners need to understand that a constantly changing Project isn't going to get anywhere as illustrated by this cartoon
If Project scope is allowed to change freely - the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress

Delivery of Products which are not fit for purpose

If the Project spends a lot of time, effort and money to produce Products which are unusable, this is a clear failure. Consider:
  1. The Project Definition should include the clear end deliverable with acceptance / quality criteria
  2. You need to have a plan with regard to ensuring the quality of each product produced by the project. Consider whether you need to produce Product Descriptions for each product, this may or may not be required but should be a justified decision
  3. Ensure that you have a good configuration management strategy for the project products 


There are many reasons why Projects fail and there are essentials you need to get in place as a Project Manager. Of course, I haven't mentioned you much in this post and you are the linchpin for success. If you aren't doing your job correctly the Project has a high probability of failing. As well as good technical skills you need to have appropriate behaviour traits and spend your time on the right activities. With all these elements in place there is a good chance of success but never assume and keep monitoring, monitoring, monitoring!


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