Is Your Project Destined to Fail? How to Spot the Signs
In a perfect world, every project we undertake would succeed: Everyone would do their part, all the pieces would fall into place, and the results would not only meet, but also exceed, the goals.
As we all know, though, we don’t live in a perfect world, and projects fall apart, even fail, all the time. Sometimes failure is no one’s fault, and due to forces outside of our control. More often, though, failure is due to a number of little things that go wrong along the way — things that can be easily prevented or corrected to get the project back on track. The trick is learning to identify those failure triggers and solve the problems right away, and applying that knowledge to future projects.
Such monitoring is vital in organizations that rely on outside funding to fulfill their missions, but even private sector organizations are well served by ongoing assessment of their work. Ideally, a project manager trained in the principles of project monitoring and evaluation will help guide your organization through its biggest challenges, but it’s important for all participants to understand the common reasons for failure so they can speak up and make changes before it’s too late.
Failure Trigger #1: Lack of Goal Clarity
If you don’t know where you want to go, how will you ever know that you have arrived there? Without clearly stated goals and performance indicators outlined in concrete, measurable terms, it is virtually impossible to gauge progress, never mind success. Additionally, a lack of clear goals often leads to unnecessary work, as team members spend time working on initiatives that aren’t in full alignment or even related to the goals.
Prioritization also suffers without goal clarity. Project initiatives need to be prioritized appropriately to prevent cost and time overruns. The project manager must evaluate the risks and benefits of all aspects of the project in relation to the goals to determine the appropriate prioritization. Otherwise, the entire project is at risk for failure.
Failure Trigger #2: Lack of Communication
Ask anyone who has been part of a failed project what he or she believes to be the cause of the failure, and inevitably, communication will come up. “If only I had known that X was happening, I might have done things differently,” they may say. Or perhaps you would hear, “I wasn’t sure where we were with things, and I couldn’t get any information, so I worked on other projects instead.”
Project communication must be on point from the start, with leaders communicating clearly identifying objectives, goals, resources, and expectations. Unfortunately, there’s often little or poor communication after that point, with team members working individually or in smaller teams in what essentially amounts to silos. It’s only when the leader asks for updates or the project appears to be veering off course that the disparate pieces come together — and the results aren’t always favorable.
One solution is a web-based centralized project management solution that all team members can access and update with their own pieces, giving everyone an overview of the project status, but the success of such a system relies upon leadership effectively communicating the importance of actually using the system. In addition, leadership needs to maintain involvement and focus on the project themselves. Rather than “assign and move on,” leaders need to clearly articulate the project’s place in the scope of priorities and remain closely involved through completion.
Failure Trigger #3: Increased Scope
Even the most well planned project can fall victim to scope creep. New ideas, new discoveries, and problems and opportunities discovered as the project moves forward can lead to requests for changes to the eventual outcome, or the need for solutions to keep the project moving. Scope creep is usually the cause of cost and time overruns, as teams are stretched trying to meet the ever-increasing list of requirements.
In some cases, expanding the scope of the project is inevitable, but project managers and monitors must have systems in place for identifying excessive or unnecessary creep, and be able to communicate the impact of the change, and/or negotiate for the change to be scrapped or pushed off to a different project.
Failed projects cost organizations time and money, not to mention they can negatively affect morale and in some cases, the company’s image. Many causes of failure can be prevented with appropriate planning and preparation, but ongoing project monitoring and evaluation is vital to successful projects.