Projects deliver change, and not everyone likes it when things change!
While we’d all love our projects to deliver something amazing, all the time, in reality, projects do fail. Even if you have delivered the work you said you would, on time, on budget and to the required scope, sometimes the end result is still not the success you expected.
And people are the common factor in project failure in these circumstances.
Let’s look at three ways that people can affect the success of your projects.
Failure Point #1: No Sponsor
Projects need a sponsor – this is something taught on every project management course. It’s good practice, and you know the reason why. The executive who acts as the sponsor is able to champion the project. They secure resources. They help overcome issues. They remove roadblocks. And they pass along interesting information that helps shape the direction of the project, along with their decisions.
Project sponsors normally have a vested interest in the outcome of the project. They are typically the person who wants the project to be completed, because their team will use whatever it is the project is delivering.
However, when you don’t have someone in this role, there isn’t anyone championing the project and supporting the delivery team. You struggle to get resources. Decisions aren’t made. No one tells you what is going on in other areas of the business that might affect what you are doing. It’s a challenge.
And ultimately, you may still deliver something, but is it what people want? With leadership so disconnected, it’s impossible to know if anyone will use what you’ve created. What a waste of time! That’s a project no one is going to chalk up as a success.
Failure Point #2: Poor Skills in the Team
The second reason why people can cause projects to struggle is lack of skills.
Hands up if you’ve ever worked on a project where you haven’t been able to choose the people you want for the team.
I thought so!
In my experience, most project managers have to take the resources they are offered. While we know it’s best practice to choose the right people for the roles – and on large strategic projects that might be possible – for the vast majority of work businesses need done, the team is made up of whoever happens to be available at that time. Sometimes, that means you are going to have people on the project team who don’t have the full range of skills required to do a fantastic job.
As a project manager, you need to think about how to overcome the problem of lack of skills in the team. You could look at building in the training costs for individuals who need a bit of extra support. Or budget for external resources with the skills you need, who could do a skills transfer exercise to support internal staff longer term.
Projects often struggle to deliver everything they set out to do if the people involved in the project don’t have the skills required to do the work. That’s not surprising! But yet time and time again we see projects starting with a team who do not have experience or skills, and are learning on the job. That’s fine, as long as the end result is still a quality outcome, and that individuals are supported appropriately so that they can do their work to a good standard.
Failure Point #3: Resistance to Change
Finally, we come to the main reason why change projects don’t have the success they often deserve. People don’t like change!
You probably spend a lot of time planning communication and training for your end users – the people affected by whatever change you are implementing. If it’s software, you will have scheduled training time for them. If it’s a process change, perhaps a business analyst will be on site to help walk them through it, and support the operational teams for the first few days. This is common change management practice, and this kind of activity should definitely be in your project plan.
However, you might come across people in your stakeholder community who don’t want to embrace the new ways of working. You will have to spend some time thinking about how to influence these characters. Find out why they don’t want to change, and then address those pain points. For example, they may feel that they can’t learn the new software or that the old process wasn’t broken. You need to fully understand their concerns before you can adequately address them.
Remember, their surface concerns might not be the real reason – dig a little deeper to try to fully understand their motivations. Then you can plan to bring them into the project in a supportive way.
It’s impossible to cover the whole range of things you can do to manage change on a project in this short article, but there are plenty of resources available to you on this site and others if you are struggling with change management on projects. The most important thing to remember is that if you can identify the people who may need extra support to make the shift to new ways of working, then you can start from there.
Of course, projects fail for lots of different reasons. These are just three of the ways that people can contribute to your project not being as successful as it deserves to be.
By being aware of the challenges that people issues create on your project, you can be better prepared to deal with them as you see them.
Elizabeth Harrin is the creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management, which she started in 2006. She has won a number of awards for her internationally popular blog: "A Girl's Guide To Project Management." She also authors two additional blogs, regularly featuring interviews she conducts with industry experts: "Talking Work," and "The Money Files," on Gantthead.