The principle aim of this article is to identify and explore multiple dimensions of project failures during the entire life of project execution. Many projects fail, especially IT projects. The only way that companies can get better at performing projects is by learning from projects they have carried out. There are small things which can decide fate of project. These all in project management practice and research, has been to see it as a threat and as something that should, if possible, be neutralized, reduced and followed.
In a perfect world every project would be “on time and within budget.” But reality (especially the proven statistics) tells a very different story. It’s not uncommon for projects to fail. Even if the budget and schedule are met, one must ask –
Question – “Did the project deliver the results and quality we expected?”
Answer to this question could be different in different perspective. There is no single method or organizational structure that can be used to manage projects to success. Project failure can happen in any organization and to any project.
There are many reasons why projects (both simple and complex) fail; the number of reasons can be infinite and can fit into different phase of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle), initiation through go live. Sometimes it’s out of the control of a project manager and/or the team members. Sometimes failure is controllable. Failed projects and people involved with the failure have some things in common. I have tried to draft few critical and most basic reasons based on my experience for project failure and may differ project to project.
From outside view, it could be that all reason will roll up to project manager’s responsibility and accountability however from my perspective it should be collective responsibility.
Here are the some of the common reasons why project fails – based on my experience.
1. Incompetent Project Manager
First possible cause of project failure is the project manager. A project manager who helps steer the project in a timely fashion and provides sound, inspiring leadership can go a long way toward bringing about a successful project. Reasons like “an incompetent project manager” “project manager unwilling to make decisions,” “project problems ignored”, “poor management by the project leader,” “loss of control by the project manager,” and “the failure of the project manager to delegate”, “working as only as coordinator” are most important reason given for project failure.
2. Less Involvement of Project Managers
This is always a topic of debate for project managers: Should they just focus on pure project management activities such as reporting, cost and issue tracking, or should they also dive into ground-level review and design? There is no correct answer. Even the biggest project depends on the success of the smallest components. Every detail contains a seed that can mean the difference between success and failure. On relatively inexperienced teams, project managers must be involved in the details for key activities. This will help them have better control of the effort as well as provide true status of the project to stakeholders.
3. Unavailability to Skilled Resources
Every project has some resource estimations before starting of the project and even every vendor submits key personnel details and profile as part of bidding process to acquire project. However picture is always opposite once project is awarded. Initial resource estimations and loading sheet handed over to project managers as part of sales hand over process but I have seen that project managers always struggle for right skilled resources hence it is necessary that leadership team should understand criticality and provide planned/skilled resources on time to avoid project delay or failure.
4. Lack of Proper Planning
Project managers should have clear projects outcomes visibility and should involve himself./herself right from sales hand over as this phase is critical for project success. If you don’t have a clear focus at the earliest stage of the process/project, you are making things harder on yourself. This would lead to inappropriate estimations and half cooked planning.
5. Lack of Management Support/Leadership Alignment
It is important to ensure that the senior management remains fully engaged throughout the project life cycle. The involvement e.g. through project update sessions imply that they are willing to take appropriate actions to address issues raised by the project team, mitigate the project risks, provide leadership, thus contributing to the project success.
6. Missing Communication
Communication plan plays very substantial role in project success or failure. Plan should contain stakeholder details I.e name, role, contact no. and email, project team details, escalation matrix and other dependent groups. Information distribution details (stakeholder, information detail, distribution methods, format and frequency) should be clearly defined in plan. To save your project from failure, project manager need to establish a clear communication channel.
Effective communication within any organization is important to keep all your team members on the same page, avoid confusions and keep them motivated. By communicating with your team, project managers can develop an environment of trust, proactively kill conflicts, which would bring the best out of your team and eventually lead to a successful delivery of the project.
7. Ignoring Change Management Process
Take a second before your project starts to undergo significant changes, or even before you look for a technology solution. It’s critical to define your change management process steps. A firm understanding of change management principles will serve as a strong backbone for any change management plan. Change is inevitable, irrespective of the size of your project. Whether good or bad, it must be managed well to ensure the project continues without disruption. Every project must have a change control process, and every change request, however small, must go through it. The change’s impact should be documented, approved and presented to key stakeholders so that everyone understands its effect on quality, cost and schedule. The focal point of any leader tasked with change must be to align their team with the vision. Communication is a crucial component in ensuring every team member is on the same page.
8. No Risk Management Process
Many projects fail because there is no risk management process as an integral part of the project management process. I am not surprised because I have been on many projects where the risk log is created at the start of the project and then quietly parked, never to be seen again. Then guess what – a perfectly predictable situation arises which no one knows how to react to.
It was in the risk log but no risk response was created so the predictable outcome is a less than optimal project. My own feeling based on my experience is that you ignore risk management in a project at your risk.
9. Inadequate Quality Assurance
Now this is where the technicality comes in. Software projects often fail when no quality assurance activities are planned and no systematic activities are performed to evaluate the quality of development process or ultimate deliverables. This is because managers often fail to project appropriate reviews tests or checkpoints where quality can be verified. Code review is part of this (as defined in #20).
10. Missing Project Management Tools/Framework
Successful projects are based on a methodology or framework that includes project management tools. Right approach can help project managers to stay on top of the project and by using some reliable management tools; project managers can enhance the team’s productivity, can increase accuracy and save time by automating activities like task tracking and managing dependencies.
A great number of unsuccessful project results from missing methodology and framework, which leads to inaccuracy and wasted time. There are numerous project management frameworks and methodologies (like Agile, Iterative) and they can support efficient delivery.
11. Company/Project Culture
Company or project culture should not be supported with political environment. It should support competency, skill, professionalism and transparency. If it isn’t, team members will not be motivated to do their best. Basically, everyone involved must be participated in their part of the project to successfully complete it. Any actions which project managers take to move project execution from the political arena into an objective and analytical one will improve the project’s success. This involves managing and retaining the most highly skilled and productive people. Knowledge is money. It is job of project managers to manage and motivate so that project efforts will experience a zone of optimal performance throughout its life.
12. Inappropriate Prioritization
While some work best on a small number of requirements, others are better suited to very complex projects with many decision-makers. But regardless of when it is done, before a requirement can be prioritized, project managers must consider why requirement is most important from a business standpoint and what would be the impact of this on overall system whether new requirement would add value to overall system or it will be overhead. Project managers should lead prioritization exercise along with all relevant stakeholders. There are a number of possible business considerations, including value, cost, risk, and improve customer experience, stakeholder agreement and urgency variables.
13. Inaccurate Stakeholder Analysis
Stakeholder Analysis is the first step and an important process that successful project managers use to win support from others. Managing stakeholders helps them to ensure that their projects succeed where others might fail. There are three steps to follow in Stakeholder Analysis. First, identify who your stakeholders are. Next, work out their power, influence and interest, so that you know who you should focus on. Finally, develop a good understanding of the most important stakeholders based on Power/Interest grid, so that you know how they are likely to respond, and how you can win their support which can lead project success.
14. Use of Unfamiliar Tools
Tools are definitely needed for project execution and success but unfamiliar tools may lead to chances of failure as well. Sometimes, it can cause many severe problems during project life cycle as the team has to deal with the learning curve of new tools along with usual project tasks and duties. Project managers should ensure that tools are not enforced on project team members, just to utilize for fulfillment of audit compliance unless tools adding some productivity and save some efforts.
15. Change – Always saying “Yes’ to the Customer
Many behaviors can cause a project to fail, but accepting whatever the client says is sure to spell project doom. Initially, a stakeholder might appreciate your flexibility – but that will be overshadowed later by the impact of possible schedule slippage and unmet objectives.. Change is a major cause of project failure. Project specifications can be changed for several reasons: initial planning was not complete or thorough; Senior-level management changed the scope of the work; the client (if not upper-level management) changed the scope of the work; this isn’t to say that you should always tell customers “no.” If you do that, they’ll feel their concerns are not being addressed. Before you commit to something, perform due diligence and analyze the pros and cons of your decision.
16. Bonding between Project Team Members
It is the prime responsibility of project managers to unite the team members to achieve a common goal. The stages a team generally goes through are: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. As a project manager, a good understanding of these stages would help in guiding a team from infancy to maturity which creates needed bonding.
Things can easily go from good to bad very quickly if there is no unity between your team members. Consider a scenario in which all team members are moving in different directions. Could you expect a positive result to come out of this situation? There could be many reasons from personality differences to conflicting interests. All of them contribute towards taking you one step closer to project failure.
17. Unrealistic Expectations
At the beginning of a project, it’s important to set realistic expectations for every member or stakeholders who are a part of the project. If the project kicks off without setting goals for individual team members, they are most likely to lose clarity and focus somewhere in the middle. Project managers must have one on one session with individual team members and help them understand their role in the project. If goals are set before the project is in full swing, the members would have a roadmap to follow that prevents them from derailing the project.
18. Talking Through Problems
Condensing bad news internally for long enough will only seed the explosion later on. It’s is fine to do for a limited period, but you will need to take some time to pull it out, examine it, feel it, and study it so you can find a way to re-channel it, or transmute it into another kind of energy. Quite often we face the dilemma of whether or not to deliver bad news to stakeholders. And too often we forget this truth: Clients have a vested interest in the success of the project. They have every right to know any development impacting the outcome of the initiative. You will end up having this heavy thing on your chest that will never move. You will never understand what it is about. The problem is that we believe that sharing problems will make us weak, and that stakeholders will start to judge us for our short-comings. Maybe they do. But stakeholders having higher interest who genuinely care about project and you very well know these people, will come out and help. Sharing helps you feel less burdened, because you now have less things on your mind. This will also allow you more space to put new thoughts, planning things better.
19. Guesstimates – Efforts
A “guess estimate,” also referred to as a “gut feel,” is based on personal intuition and past experience. But even the most strongly held conviction could be faulty. An inaccurate estimate can leave a project team slogging day and night to meet a deadline. The project might finally be delivered on time-but with a huge effort overrun. If time is pressing, use Function Point technique, Function Points are units of measure for functional size as defined within the IFPUG Functional Size Measurement (FSM) Method and it is the major global functional sizing methodology. Project Manager is responsible for accurate and re-estimation post sales hand over. If efforts guesstimated or not correctly estimated with appropriate tool then it definitely impacts one of all three critical project parameters- Cost, Scope, schedule.
20. Avoiding Code Reviews
Assuming that testing will catch bugs or that defects are fixed faster when you know where code is breaking. You’ll only end up increasing the risk of schedule slippage as the inflow of defects rises during testing and the turnaround time for code fixes increases. Code review helps produce a stable, quality deliverable. Its focus is not only to catch code defects but also to look at critical dimensions that may not get caught during testing, such as code optimization and requirement coverage.
21. Skipping Prototyping
Defects can result from a misunderstanding of requirements and a misinterpretation of stated requirements. Even if requirements are well-documented, they must be validated for correct understanding. Only by a visual walkthrough can users spot the differences in what they expect and what’s being built. Feedback must be planned at various stages throughout a project to reduce risks. These feedback loops will help you spot gaps early and provide enough time for correction. A sketch, wireframe, mockup, and prototype are all unique ways to visually display the requirements of your project with varying levels of detail. Understanding that level of polished output each of these present will keep expectations aligned and communication clear between all the stakeholders.
There could be many different, seemingly independent causes of project failure. However, it becomes clear that many of these causes are actually linked to project managers (which may differ project to project) and their way of execution. Past failure should not discourage project managers from future efforts. Past examples of IT project failures gives us the opportunity to point to the relevant lessons that can be derived from recognizing areas where IT projects is more likely to fail.