The Top 9 Project Failures and Steps to Avoid Them

The Top 9 Project Failures and Steps to Avoid Them
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How to Use Project Failures to Your Advantage
If you let project failures 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.

Based upon our latest project post mortem survey, most project failures can be tracked back to an unclear project definition phase.

The Top Nine Project Failures Related to Project Definition from Postmortem Data
Do any of these top nine project definition mistakes sound familiar?

  1. Business Case
    The business case and 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.  How to set smart goals.
  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 re-calibration.
  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.

How to Avoid Project Failures In the Future
To avoid project failures 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 how it could be done better next time.
  • 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.

The Bottom Line
To avoid project failures in the future make sure your project teams have the support, skills, and knowledge to get the project definition phase right.  Take the time to get the business case, goals, metrics, statement of work, stakeholders, roles, sponsor, resources, and communication plan “right enough” before you move into action.

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

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