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Project Management | Why do projects fail?

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How do you know when – and why – a project has failed? In many cases, the reason for failure is obvious.

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Project Management | Why do projects fail?

  1. 1. Join Mind Tools Login Home Toolkit More Resources Store News Join Corporate Services About Search You are here: > Home > Project Management > Why Do Projects Fail? Leadership Skills 181 121 Google + 3 12 Free eNewsletter Team Management Strategy Tools Why Do Projects Fail? Learn new career skills every week, plus get our What Is Project Management? Problem Solving Learning How to Avoid Project Failure workbook, worth $9.99, free when you subscribe! Decision Making We can probably all think of projects First name Project Management that have "failed" – perhaps processes got worse rather than better, maybe they were cancelled Time Management because of cost overruns, or perhaps Email Privacy systems were launched with Stress Management fundamental errors. Communication Skills How do you know when – and why – a project has failed? In many cases, the Subscribe Creativity Techniques reason for failure is obvious. However, the definition of failure isnt always Learning Skills clear: one project with a significant An impossible business case is one common reason f or delay might be described as a failure; project f ailure. Career Skills yet another, with a similar delay, might © iStockphoto/emmgunn be seen as a stunning success. In this article, well define project failure, and explore the factors that cause some projects to fail. Definition of Project Failure A project is considered a failure when it has not delivered what was required, in lineopen in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com
  2. 2. with expectations. Therefore, in order to succeed, a project must deliver to cost, to Training and quality, and on time; and it must deliver the benefits presented in the business case. 5 Reasons to Development The requirements for success are clear and absolute – right? Unfortunately, its not Join the Mind Tools Managers! that simple. Because the second part of our definition of success is that the project Club Today must be delivered "in line with expectations." If key stakeholders agreed that a project had to exceed its initial budget, the project may still be considered a success. Likewise, if a project delivered everything that was in the detailed project designs, it may still be considered a failure if it didnt include vital elements that the key stakeholders needed. This doesnt seem fair, but project success and failure isnt just about the facts, nor is it simply about what was delivered. Its also, crucially, about how the project is perceived. Reasons for Project Failure Here are some of the main reasons why projects fail: PUZZLED about where to find The wrong business requirements have been addressed content for your learning If your project is set up to deliver the "wrong thing," it may be considered a With the Mind Tools Club, you program or portal? failure even if everything is delivered on time, within budget, and to the required get much, much more than you Get 1000+ management and quality. This seems harsh. But if your project doesnt deliver what the do here for free. soft skills training resources organization really needs, this will inevitably negatively affect how its perceived. from Mind Tools Corporate. This is why its so important to conduct a thorough business requirements analysis. Find out what you get! Its not possible to deliver the business case Find out more If your business case cant be delivered, then you have an impossible task. To make things worse, after the business case is approved, delivery of other things then becomes dependent on your project. This makes changing your projects deadlines, budgets and expectations more difficult. Get the Free For example, once youve promised to deliver a new airport baggage Mind Tools App management system, airlines may schedule additional flights for shortly after the systems launch, so that they can take advantage of the new capacity. If the baggage system doesnt work, or if it has major problems during testing, it may be hard to convince senior managers to allow the project to be delayed, because they will have to give up promised increased revenue. When you write your business case, make sure you think through the project requirements in detail, and identify whats needed to ensure that you can deliver those requirements. Dont just list assumptions – make sure you explore them thoroughly. Review other, similar projects, so that you dont forget any major items. If youre delivering a new system, review your hardware and interface requirements. If you have major risks, include sufficient contingency resources (people, budget, and time) to manage those risks appropriately. Remember that implementing change is hard! Be realistic, and be ready to have some difficult conversations. For instance,open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com
  3. 3. your CEO may be disappointed that he cant have what he wants before the year end, or key users may say that they really need a fully featured product at the end of phase one. However, it will be a lot harder to have these conversations at a future date, when your project is in trouble! In many cases, business case documentation is written before a project manager is assigned. If youre the incoming project manager, make sure Learn on the move with the you dont simply accept these documents as they are! free Mind Tools iPhone, iPad and Android Apps. Short bursts Youre responsible for delivering the project, so be sure to review the of business training ideal for business case. Validate assumptions, and identify any gaps or areas that busy people. need more detail. If difficult conversations are needed, have them now. Once deadlines, requirements, and budgets are set, expectations are much more difficult to change! Get the Mind Tools App Governance is poor Few projects ever start without a sponsor. This is the person who has identified the need for change in an area of the business, and who is Related Resources committed to making that change happen. He or she plays a vital role in ensuring the projects success. A good sponsor can make a mediocre project fantastic, and a poor sponsor can delay and frustrate a fantastic project team. Mind Tools Ebook The project sponsor is supported by the projects governance bodies, usually in the form of a steering group. These governance roles are essential: they provide direction, guidance, and critical review of the project and its progress. As project manager, youre involved in the day-to-day running of the project, but governance groups can take a step back and look at the project from a different perspective. They can ask difficult questions about progress and performance. They may see things that youve overlooked. However, they can also support you by providing contacts and insights that help you get things done, and by Quick Tools providing "political cover" when you need it. Project managers dont usually have any influence over who their project sponsor is. Sponsors either self-select, or theyre chosen because of their Tell a friend position in the organization. However, you often have more influence over who Useful tools from the Mind is in your steering group. As such, if you know that your project sponsor lacks Tools site, brought together Most Popular into easily downloadable, passion for the project, or if the sponsor doesnt like to say no to people who Tool/Resource Finder keep trying to expand the project scope, then make sure you balance this with easily printable PDFs. tougher or more engaged steering group members. Implementation is poor Find out more If you deliver your project competently, youll avoid poor implementation – right? Unfortunately, its not that clear. Delivery can be complex. You need to manage risks, issues, and scope; manage your team; and communicate with stakeholders. Delivering change is hard, and not everything is in your control. Therefore, What Bugs You? being competent isnt enough for good implementation, but its a good start!open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com
  4. 4. There are a lot of tools available to help you. Take our quiz on your project management skills to get started. Let us know about anything wrong, or anything you dont People lose focus on the projects benefits like about this site, and you Projects are based on a list of benefits that must be delivered. For example, could win a US$50 Amazon you may need a faster customer service process, you may need to produce voucher! products more cheaply, or you may need to improve the quality of your service. These benefit statements should be refined so that theyre clear, concise, and quantified. Click here From these benefit statements, a set of "things to do" is generated. For example, you may need to consult customers, redesign products, or implement a new system. The outcome of this is a business case document that analyzes the project in terms of costs, and of the benefits will be delivered. The project team then focuses on detailed planning, and on delivering the line Sponsored Links items in the project plan – building a new system, developing training packs, mapping out new processes, and so on. At this stage, the team may forget about the benefit requirements. Ads by Google This often results in a project deliverable thats well built, but doesnt provide the necessary benefits. For example, if the project plan focuses on designing Plan Project and building a system, you could get a fantastic system, but one thats not Project Risks being used by the business. To avoid this problem, adopt a benefits management approach throughout the Project Scope life of the project, and remember the need to deliver the required benefits when youre planning and delivering your project. The environment changes This is probably the trickiest area. If the businesss needs change, then your business case can become outdated before youve actually completed the project. You may have to review your original requirements and goals partway through the project to decide how to proceed, and this may result in changing the scope of your project – or even canceling the project altogether! If youre working in an environment thats changing fast, you can help reduce the risks by doing the following: Making timely decisions – If the project is clearly not going to be able to deliver the revised requirements, dont ignore this. The sooner you communicate this, and the sooner you make a decision about the projects future, the better. Considering smaller projects – Its more difficult to change direction in a large cruise ship than in a tugboat. So, think about whether a proposed projects scope and delivery timeline are appropriate within your business environment. Delivering projects in smaller pieces is not always appropriate, but its worth considering. Managing expectations – Just because you cancel a project does not automatically mean that the project is considered a failure. This depends on many factors, including how you manage the involvement of key project stakeholders in the decision-making process.open in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com
  5. 5. Key Points For a project to be successful, its not enough simply to manage your project competently, and deliver a good quality product. To avoid failure, make sure you have identified the right business requirements, created an achievable business case, put strong project governance into place, managed a high- quality implementation, focused on benefits, and monitored your changing environment. Above all, be sure to manage the expectations of your stakeholders, so that they stay supportive. After all, these are the people who will declare your project to be successful – or otherwise. This is just one of hundreds of skill-building tools and resources on this site. Click here for more articles, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just US$1. 181 6 121 12 Join the Mind Tools Club The Mind Tools Club gives you much, much more than you get here on the basic Mind Tools site, including these 4 free workbooks! Get training, help and ideas to boost your career. Find out what you get Where to go from here: Next article Free newsletteropen in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com
  6. 6. Join Mind Tools Return to top of the page Management training and leadership training, online About Mind Tools Top Skills Areas Toolkit Store Alerts & News About Us Top Articles Leadership Skills Store Home Newsletter Meet The Team Achieve More Team Management Courses Sign Up What We Do Lead Effectively Strategy Tools Workbooks Who We Help Manage Stress Problem Solving Toolkits and Guides Corporate Services What People Say Build Your Career Decision Making Membership Corporate Services Our Guarantee Find Direction Project Management Gift Certificates Site Services Videos Practical Creativity Accessibility Contact Us Time Management Mind Tools Ebook Cookies & Privacy Stress Management How to Lead Accessibility Learning Skills Make Time for Success Cookie Information Communication Skills Life Plan Workbook Career Skills Team Tools © Mind Tools Ltd, 1996-2013. All rights reserved. Click here for permissions information. Privacyopen in browser PRO version Are you a developer? Try out the HTML to PDF API pdfcrowd.com

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