Project Failure Should Be the First Step to Project Success

project failure steps to success

If you let project failure keep you from conducting a project post mortem, you have already given up your opportunity to learn and take that first step out of the basement of defeat to the possibility of enlightenment above.

Most project failures can be tracked back to an unclear project definition phase.  Do any of these top nine project definition mistakes sound familiar?

  1. Business Case.  The business rationale was vague, tactical, debatable, or created in a vacuum.
  2. Goals.  There was some ambiguity between customers, management, project managers, and the project team regarding what they wanted to accomplish and why.
  3. Metrics.  While people generally knew what success would be, it was unclear how the success of the project was ultimately to be measured.
  4. Statement of Work.  Project deliverables, scope, approach, assumptions, timing, or budget were not formalized or agreed to by key stakeholders.
  5. Stakeholders.  It was unclear who the internal and external project stakeholders were and what they cared most about.
  6. Roles.  Project team members and stakeholders’ responsibilities and jobs were unclear, confusing, or shifting without explicit recalibration.
  7. Sponsor.  Formal and authoritative sponsorship of the project was unclear or in name only.
  8. Resources.  There were not enough resources to meet key project objectives within the identified project time, quality, and cost parameters.
  9. Communication.  While communication occurred, there was no formal strategy or plan to ensure that information got to the right people the right information at the right time in the right way.

To avoid project failure in the future:

  • Make it safe to talk about project failure openly. You need every member of your project team to share their observations on what went wrong. If you can approach the subject with some curiosity, humor and humility, your team will feel more comfortable in voicing their honest opinions.
  • Don’t seek to assign blame. “Who” doesn’t matter as much at this point as “what” went wrong, “why” and “how” it can be avoided in the future. Keep away from making it personal when you discuss project failure.
  • Focus on Continuous Improvement. Try to lead your team to consider project failure as a kind of just-in-time resource for learning and a way to create better, faster and cheaper projects and results going forward.

Want to learn more about successfully leading project teams?  Download 5 Steps to Get Your Project Team Pulling in the Same Direction

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