7 Reasons for Project Failure and How to Avoid Them

Written By: Ryan Bliss

Project management tips

Following key project management steps can greatly increase the probability of your project’s success.

Project management is filled with daily challenges, from the planned to unplanned, and often it is the failures of a project that teach us the most. Any project manager worth their salt will acknowledge that the failures and misses during their careers taught them valuable lessons while making them better at their job. Having the basic skills and education is a great first step – but real world project management and operation management will certainly test anyone first starting out.

So what are these failures? Most problems that arise during the course of a project can usually be traced back to key fundamental steps that every project needs to succeed. Let’s take a look at what these are and how best to avoid them.

1. Lack of Top Level Buy-In

Let’s face it, your project might be on track to deliver superior results and well before the scheduled due date, but if senior management is not on board or is not involved, there will be problems. Not only do senior level staff, usually meaning C-suite personnel, have to be involved, sometimes they are the ones who need to make the difficult decisions when there are disagreements. Without a clear direction steered from the top, the rest can and most likely will fall apart.

Tips for project management successTIP: Keep senior managers informed of any and all issues, successes and challenges. They hired a project manager to do one thing: ensure project success. By alerting them to any issues that require their input, you’re doing your job. Their involvement and influence is crucial to keeping the project on the right path.

2. Unrealistic Requirements and Schedules

Requirements gathering is one of the key steps toward ensuring a successful project—particularly during large-scale projects such as software or automation integration. With the right information upfront, a lot of complicated and time-consuming issues can be avoided further down the line.

Unrealistic schedules also hamper projects. The ideal project involves making small, incremental steps that build on each other as each one is tested and is stable. Moving things too quickly inevitably means more money spent later on to fix things that should have been tested and working properly from the start.

Tips for project management successTIP: It is a safe bet to assume your timelines are too demanding. Ask for more time in the planning stages and ensure you have all the details necessary to move forward. Demonstrate how more time and less demanding schedule actually translates to money and resources saved.

3. Scope Creep

This is exactly what it sounds like – and is a classic problem child. Essentially it means you need to deliver more without any additional time or resources. For example, at a meeting a stakeholder asks, “What about Feature X? We definitely need that.”

Tips for project management successTIP: Keep scope creep to a minimum by being clear from the beginning about not only what will be in the deliverable but also what will NOT be in the deliverable. Document all communications. We are all human and interpret things differently. This means that what is not stated is just as important as what is stated.

4. No User Involvement

Just as it’s important to involve top management – it’s also essential to have user input and validation. Because if users can’t use or understand what has been delivered, the value of the deliverable becomes very low to worthless.

Tips for project management successTIP: Set up meetings with users at key points during the course of the project. This sort of feedback is incredibly valuable as it acts as a reality check and informs you of how the product will work (or not) in the hands of its audience. The earlier you get the users involved, the better off the product will be in the end, as those are the individuals who will have to maintain and administer the system.

5. Lack of Resources

Hard to believe, but this happens. A shortfall in resources might indicate that the project should not go forward—it is possible the engine is not ready. Although it is preferable to save and invest in the right amount of resources, we all know that real life is not like that.  It’s also important to anticipate resource shortages on the client side to determine if they are unable to sustain the project schedule or deliverables. This should be brought up sooner than later, as this is as critical to a project as anything under your control.

Tips for project management successTIP: Analyze whether a lack of resources will affect your critical path tasks. If so, dig deeper to discover a way to transfer resources from non-critical areas during the course of the project. Though not perfect, this strategy can perhaps help you reach the finish line. If it looks dim, remember to communicate all findings to the client.

6. Cutting Short Testing and Training

It’s getting near the end of project, you’ve run a bit late on the earlier phases of the project, and the only way to deliver on-time is to sacrifice the testing phase of the project.  Don’t do it.  There is a chance that you’d be risking the overall quality of the hard work you’ve done up to this point, and will most likely spend more time to recover from the “bump” than if you just extended the timeframe to accommodate the testing and training phase.

Tips for project management successTIP: Spend the time upfront, build confidence in the system and ensure personnel understand the system – and what to do when they need assistance. Test, train, and test again. Don’t shortchange yourself near the end or you’ll pay for it twofold.

7. Communication

Lack of communication amongst all project participants can hurt a project. We have all experienced situations where one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing – and the larger the project, the more dire the consequences.  The most important part here is to make sure the communication is effective.  I’m sure you have never been in a meeting where your mind has wandered off, or that you walked out not knowing exactly what you are tasked to do.  Keep meetings short and to the point.  Don’t have meetings just because that’s what the PMBOK says, do it to actually move the project forward and keep people informed.

Tips for project management successTIP: Ensure clear communication from top to bottom and across all groups (installers, suppliers etc.). Meet as frequently as is reasonable, document decisions and ensure agreement on timetables. Consider creating a project hub, a central location that can be hosted on an intranet, an open website or blog (great when there are many external stakeholders).

Ryan Bliss is the Operations Manager at Bastian’s software division and has been with the company since 2007.

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3 comments

  1. SPS Chauhan says:

    Cannot agree more Ryan. Scope Creep & Unrealistic Expectations kill the project !!

  2. Doug says:

    Nice article – excellent points to executing a successful project.

  3. aaron kleyla says:

    Good content! Keep it up.

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