A quick trawl online will show you dozens of reasons why projects fail. Change of company direction, a poor business case and lack of strategy are amongst the reasons, and these are things that project managers can’t directly influence.
However, there are some common reasons for projects being stopped prematurely that you can control. Your reputation depends on being able to deliver successfully when the rest of the environment is right, so here are 5 reasons why projects fail that you can influence for the better.
Failure to plan is planning to fail, as the saying goes.
Unsuccessful projects often have project plans that haven’t been looked at for weeks (or longer). Things change on a project, and you can’t manage the impact of that unless you have clarity about what it takes to incorporate the impact.
If your project doesn’t reflect the real situation in the project, your team won’t know what’s going on (or what should be going on). We see this through:
- Tasks that are missing
- Tasks that are marked as complete when actually there is still work to be done
- Tasks that are marked as not yet started when there has been work done on them
- Incorrect resource allocation to task so people don’t know what they should be working on.
If you can’t see what’s going on during the project, you are more at risk of letting the work get out of control.
Do this: Make sure that you keep your schedule up to date and use professional project scheduling software to ensure all your team have access to the same information.
Weak Scope Management
A project can still be classed as a failure even if you deliver on time and on budget. Why? Because the customer didn’t get what they want.
Scope management is the process that enables you to deliver what was requested. Knowing what the requirements are lets everyone focus on the essentials.
Related reading: 7 Questions to Ask About Your Project Scope
Issues arise when the scope wasn’t clear in the first place or when the scope changes as you go through the project. Both situations can add confusion and delay to the project, and poorly managed will result in you not achieving the desired result for the client.
Do this: Spend enough time at the beginning of the project eliciting, capturing and documenting the requirements. This process will differ for Agile and waterfall projects, but the concept of having some idea of what you are going to do in the next phase remains the same. Familiarise yourself with the change management process and stick to it. Always.
Inadequate Risk Management
As a project manager, you know that risk management is important. The guidelines and standards that project management professional bodies share with us show that through the detailed guidelines on how to manage risk.
So why don’t more project managers do it in an active way? It’s not enough to fill in your risk register at the beginning of the project and then hope for the best. You have to actively manage and control the risks that have been identified, and continue to add new ones as you go through the project.
If you don’t stay on top of your risks, you are more likely to hit a problem that you didn’t foresee and don’t have the skills, resources or time to resolve. Active risk management lets you deal with issues before they become too big to handle. This can help you keep your project on track and less likely to be shut down before the final completion.
Do this: Make time each month to review project risk and talk to your team about the progress on managing each risk. Build this into your regular project team meetings.
Not Enough Resources
When you are struggling for people, money or equipment, your project is at risk. And if you don’t get what you need, you won’t be able to deliver your project effectively. That results in failure, or the perception of failure. It’s frustrating to be in this position because often you aren’t in a position to control the allocation of resources. If it isn’t your budget, you can’t give yourself more, and you may not be able to secure the time from those expert colleagues that would make all the difference to a challenging problem.
If you find yourself needing more resources part way through a project, clarify what you want and make the case to your sponsor, stating what the impact will be if these resources aren’t found.
Do this: Work with your team to establish resource requirements at the outset of the project, and secure the resources that you need. If you can’t, raise this as an issue with your project sponsor as soon as possible.
Sometimes when leadership changes on a project, the direction of your work shifts a little and your project no longer becomes relevant. That can result in your project being stopped, temporarily or permanently.
In this situation it might seem like there isn’t much you can do – these decisions are taken by people in senior leadership roles. But you can at least make sure that your project has a solid business case and clear deliverables, and that there is a link to company strategy, so that in the event of a change in leadership you have clarity on what you were supposed to deliver. They can then assess if overall, the project still fits within the business strategy.
Do this: Make sure your business case is written, approved and gives the clarity necessary for a new exec to see the value in the work you are doing. This might not be enough, in the case of radical strategic change, to alter the course of your project if closure is on the cards, but it will at least make it easier for the new leadership team to assess your project and its benefits.