Learn from your (OK my) project failures

While most projects are unique, there are some general reasons why projects can and will fail if not dealt with early on. These include

Shoddy or non-existent planning – the most common reason why projects fail.   Projects that start the execution phases without fully understanding the work that needs to be done are usually destined for problems.  By the time you realise that you are not in agreement with your sponsor (or stakeholders), it is almost impossible to get back on track within the allocated budget, timeframe and scope.

Incomplete or vague project plans – the work schedule or plan is the road map describing who, how and when you are going to complete the work.  There will be problems if your project plan is at too high a level, is missing tasks or not up-to-date. You could get away with it on a short lived small project, but not on a project of any size.

Weak project management discipline – some project managers do an excellent job in the planning process, but then forget to manage the project properly on a day to day basis when work has started.  This manifests itself as problems when managing scope change, resolving issues, communicating to stakeholders and managing project risks.

Inadequate resources – you may not have the right level of resources for a multitude of reasons.  Common excuses include not estimating the work correctly, or doing the estimating correctly but not scheduling or requesting the right level of staffing.  It may be that you have enough bodies, but you do not have people with the right skill mix, on the right day.

People problems – most people tend to get along OK when the project is on track.   However, as soon as any project gets into trouble, then people start to work longer hours, feel more stress, and have more personality conflicts.  While these problems may be causing the project to slip, it is more likely that the people problems are a later symptom.

Life-cycle problems – T here are many opportunities for project problems throughout its life-cycle, often these problems will cascade as the project progresses, leading to even bigger problems when there is no time to fix them.  Some common life-cycle problems include:

  • Failing to clearly and completely define the requirements, resulting in building the wrong features or leaving gaps in the features needed.
  • New or state of the art technology may cause unanticipated problems. Combined with technology components do not fit together as designed, is a real recipe for disaster.
  • A poor technical design which does not allow the solution to be modified and is not scalable.
  • Requirements are only frozen late in the project and new change requests causing the project scope, budget and timescales to drift.
  • Poor initial testing techniques that cause errors themselves and later reworks.

All of these problems will cause your projects to struggle. The problems that appear earlier will cause the most trouble over time and are most likely to be the ones that require a full project rescue.


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