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The 8 Worst Managed Projects of All Time


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Most projects start out as great ideas. But, somewhere along the way, project management mistakes are made, communication breaks down, and, most projects—70% of them— end up late, over budget, and on the way to the project dumpster. These 8 projects failed epically, but therein are contained project management lessons any smart manager can benefit from.

Published in: Business

The 8 Worst Managed Projects of All Time

  1. 1. The 8 Worst-Managed Projects of All Time How you can learn from history with better planning, communication, and foresight
  2. 2. An Introduction to Failure Most projects start out as great ideas. But, somewhere along the way, mistakes are made, communication breaks down, and, most projects—70% of them— end up late, over budget, and on the way to the project dumpster.
  3. 3. An Introduction to Failure The following 8 projects failed epically, but therein are contained lessons any smart work manager can benefit from, like: • The value of getting project goals aligned • The wisdom of controlling requirements and budget • The need to set and adhere to realistic deadlines
  4. 4. When growth outpaced communication, the once unbeatable empire broke into two empires: the Greek in the East and the Latin in the West. # 8
  5. 5. The Outcome: • Cultures were divided. • Communities threw up silos. • Resources went unused. # 8
  6. 6. It could’ve been different if they had: • Focused on increasing the quality and frequency of their communication • Regularly aligned their priorities around shared goals # 8
  7. 7. The Takeaway: Misaligned goals leave a project with scattered priorities and complicate communication. To keep your project on track, find a way to facilitate healthy collaboration and agree on a single target – regardless of the distance. # 8
  8. 8. The roofless Sinclair C5 was supposed to be a better, more affordable way to commute. Unfortunately, it went into production without considering one immutable fact: its market was in the rain-heavy United Kingdom. # 7
  9. 9. The Outcome: • The vehicle couldn’t reverse or steer. • Consumers bought only 17,000 units of the rain- vulnerable design. • Sinclair Vehicles filed for bankruptcy 11 months later. # 7
  10. 10. It could’ve been different if they had: • Taken more time to understand customer requirements before starting • Put proper quality assurance checkpoints in place during the project # 7
  11. 11. The Takeaway: Successful projects have complete visibility into the quality of their products and the needs of the customer. If the Sinclair team would have spent more time prioritizing these requirements, they might have sold more than a paltry 17,000 units. # 7
  12. 12. What would be the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 required production in facilities across the globe. Unfortunately, these teams were using different CAD programs. # 6
  13. 13. The Outcome: • During installation, they discovered the parts designed by different teams didn’t fit together. • As they went back to the drawing board, the project was set back two years and $6.1 billion over budget. # 6
  14. 14. It could’ve been different if they had: • Aligned the different teams on one software to ensure design. • Communicated more regularly from team to team, instead of waiting for installation to see if parts would match. # 6
  15. 15. The Takeaway: Many successful projects avoid failure in large part by implementing these two key differentiators: a single system of truth and collaboration among teams whether they share the same office or occupy hallways across the globe. # 6
  16. 16. Early on, the sort-of SUV crossover drifted down a sad road when the production team failed to inform the designers that the vehicle had to be based on an existing minivan platform. # 5
  17. 17. The Outcome: • It was dubbed “one of the ugliest cars ever made.” • The vehicle’s target audience rejected its look, price, and add-ons. • GM sold only 27,322 units, short even of its modest break-even estimates. # 5
  18. 18. It could’ve been different if they had: • Taken more time to understand their target audience and their requirements • Increased communication between the production and design teams, which came too little, too late. # 5
  19. 19. The Takeaway: Successful projects establish up front who needs to know what and who is responsible for communicating that information. The minivan platform requirement ultimately changed the entire look and destiny of the Pontiac Aztek. # 5
  20. 20. The global warming epic’s production was supposed to be 96 days at $100 million. Several script rewrites, one tropical storm, and one AWOL director later, the shoot was way past due and drowning in an overflowing budget. # 4
  21. 21. The Outcome: • Shooting started without a complete script, resulting in lots of re- shoots. • The shoot stretched to 150 days and went $135 million over budget. • Bad publicity doomed the intended blockbuster to only modest box office. # 4
  22. 22. It could’ve been different if they had: • Secured a finished script prior to the start of filming • Performed meteorological research on the area where they would be filming (the Hawaiian coast) and how weather might affect their filming schedule # 4
  23. 23. The Takeaway: Successful projects aren’t anomalies. They, too, deal with shifting priorities and resource swaps. What sets them apart from failed projects is the ability to foresee problems and prevent major disasters. Much of this battle is won in the planning phase. # 4
  24. 24. Millions were spent to make sure people knew Windows Vista would be the greatest thing ever. But constant changes delayed its release, and Vista fell short of inflated expectations—slower, less secure, and less popular than its predecessor. # 3
  25. 25. The Outcome: • One-third of all new PC owners abandoned Vista in favor of Windows XP. • Delays caused Vista to be released in the slowest selling season of the year. • Existing software on the market wasn’t compatible with Vista. # 3
  26. 26. It could’ve been different if they had: • Nailed down a fixed set of strategic objectives, instead of fixating on features • Settled for a manageable set of initial requirements, then planned post-release iterations to add the bells and whistles # 3
  27. 27. The Takeaway: Delay after delay created an anticipation to which few products could measure up. In this high- stakes context, project leaders failed to manage expectations, get complete visibility into the real issues, and follow a strict timeline for the product’s release. # 3
  28. 28. When Knight Capital was brought on to work on new code for a new SEC program, an aggressive deadline was set. It’s highly likely, experts say, that Knight Capital, short on time, went to production with test code. # 2
  29. 29. The Outcome: • A glitch cost the company $440 million in the first 30 minutes of trading—3x their annual earnings. • Company stock fell 75% in just two days. • The company nearly went bankrupt and had to take out a $400-million line of credit. # 2
  30. 30. It could’ve been different if they had: • Invested in better resource management to forecast how long the project would feasibly take and avoid setting an arbitrary deadline • Established a more robust quality assurance process # 2
  31. 31. The Takeaway: Successful projects utilize the resources they have and outsource work they can’t complete if they’re on a deadline. Successful project managers build in time for proper QA. # 2
  32. 32. Malfunctioning rings. Hotels missing floors. The worst case of pink eye ever. Runaway deadlines and nonexistent transparency took the 2014 Olympic Games way over budget and under- whelming in front of a global audience. # 1
  33. 33. The Outcome: • Hotels, venues, and the Opening Ceremonies were riddled with embarrassing faux pas. • From an original $12- billion budget, the Sochi Games ballooned to an astonishing $51 billion— 4x the original budget. # 1
  34. 34. It could’ve been different if they had: • Based project completion deadlines on historical project data • Made real-time reports on all projects and tasks transparent to all team members and stakeholders • Invested in increased cost management measures # 1
  35. 35. The Takeaway: Successful projects account for all things planned and unplanned. Building in buffer time for unanticipated problems and fire-drill requests will keep projects on track, on budget, and on time—a lesson the Sochi Olympic team learned the hard way. # 1
  36. 36. A Conclusion to Failure Yes, hindsight is 20/20. However, with rare exception, even the biggest project failures can be avoided by improving requirements-gathering, alignment, and estimates during the planning phase and increasing communication and reporting during production.