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Top Ten Reasons Why Projects Fail


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Studies show that many projects either fail outright or fail to meet most of their objectives. There are a myriad of possible reasons why this might be the case. Very often, organizations go looking for a culprit and sometimes blame the project manager or even the very concept of project management itself. Sometimes they decide to “fix” the problem by getting all the project managers certified. Or they decide to standardize on a certain tool. And while certification and standardization are laudable things, they do not necessarily address the central problem or problems. This presentation will discuss the top ten reasons why projects fail and briefly discuss solutions to each problem. We will see how such areas as estimates, scope and “the accidental project manager” contribute to the problem.

Top Ten Reasons Why Projects Fail

  1. 1. TOP TEN REASONSWHY PROJECTS FAILJim Stewart, PMPJPStewart Associates
  2. 2. 2Learning points• Learn to recognize the ten project failure signs in your organization.• Understand what commonly used solution is not necessarily a solution at all.• Learn the basics of risk management, one of the top ten reasons for project failure.
  3. 3. 3The nature of the problem• A staggering 39% of projects with budgets over US $10 million failed.• *The Standish Group, "CHAOS 2007 REX: A Standish Group Research Exchange." 2007.
  4. 4. 4Why projects fail• There are many reasons that projects fail. If you talk to any project manager who has been practicing for a while, he or she will give you a list of reasons, some valid, some not.• This list is my own opinion formed from running many projects and consulting on others in various stages of completion.
  5. 5. Project Maturity Levels 5
  6. 6. 6Reason # 1- Scope creep• Project scope is the sum total of all the work you are going to do (and not do) on the project.• It is important, first, to define all the work via some mechanism, so Work Breakdown Structure, scope statement, etc.• This is best done in a meeting with the entire team. It serves, at least, two purposes: having a meeting of the minds on deliverables and getting team buy-in.• Solution is to have rigidly defined scope up front and a rigorous change control process in place.
  7. 7. 7WBS example – developing scope
  8. 8. 8Reason # 2 - Resources• Resources of the human kind are frequently over- allocated. No one in the organization seems to know who is working on what at any given time.• Since resources are the heart and soul of any endeavor, the schedule is only as good as your faith in resources being able to show up and work as expected.• Another problem is that many schedules are created which show serious over-allocation on specific projects. It is not uncommon to see resources scheduled 24 hours per day!• One solution is to have managers gather each week and, using spreadsheets, plan resource needs.
  9. 9. 9Over allocated resources in Project
  10. 10. 10Reason #3 - Communications• The Project Management Body of Knowledge dedicates an entire Knowledge Area to Communications.• It‟s my contention that the average person is not a very good communicator. They either don‟t answer emails or only answer half of the questions asked.• You should insist on getting team members trained in communications so they are connecting at a very high level.• You might also consider the creation of a Communications Management Plan which details which stakeholders will get what information when and by what means.
  11. 11. 11 Communications Management PlanStakeholder Method Frequency Type NotesSponsor PowerPoint Weekly Status updateTeam Email Weekly Status; action Meetings items should be held face-to- face.Senior PowerPoint Monthly Status; actionmanagement itemsSteering PowerPoint; Quarterly Status; actioncommittee status reports items; go/no go report
  12. 12. 12Reason #4 - Stakeholder Management• A stakeholder has a vested interest in your project for good or for ill.• The first step in this process is identifying stakeholders according to their power, influence, and interest.• Once you know who your stakeholders are, you can develop a strategy for dealing with each one. This leads somewhat back to the previous Communications Management Plan.• Keep stakeholders informed before and during the project.
  13. 13. Stakeholder quadrant Key player Weekly updates Bi-Weekly updates Monthly presentationsPower/influence of stakeholders Keep informed periodically Bi-Weekly updates Interest of stakeholders
  14. 14. 14Reason #5 – Estimates• There is more art than science when most team members make estimates of time for tasks.• When asked for an estimate, they will usually pull a number out of the air based, perhaps, on the last time they did a similar task.• Many project managers on hearing the estimate, will add some „fudge factor‟ based on their knowledge of the team member.• A solution here is to keep historical data for all estimates. Ultimately you will have and maintain a database that will keep your estimates more accurate.
  15. 15. 15Some common estimating techniques• Historical – keep records of all estimates and use them as reference for future projects.• PERT – (Optimistic + (4XMost Likely) + Pessimistic)/6• Three point (Optimistic + Most Likely + Pessimistic)/3• Best case or worst case estimateYou will have to determine what works in yourenvironment.
  16. 16. 16Reason #6 - Risk• Many project managers do not manage their risks or even know what they are.• The process of risk management is not very difficult. What tends to be more challenging is keeping at it over a period of time.• Another challenge is that you may have to sell risk management to senior management. They are often skeptical of doing tasks and spending money in advance for something that may never happen.• A solution is to do risk management on a smaller, less impactful project to see its benefits.
  17. 17. 17Probability/Impact Matrix
  18. 18. 18Risk response options• Avoid – Remove the possibility of the risk occurring by removing the task or item that causes the risk.• Transfer – Move the risk over to some third party either by insuring or subcontracting• Mitigate – Reduce the probability or impact of the risk‟s occurrence by taking proactive steps.• Accept – Do nothing.
  19. 19. 19Reason #7 – Unsupported project culture• Many people do not even know what project management is or what a PM does.• This lack of knowledge sometimes transfers over to corporations who fail to understand the role.• Consequently, projects are not treated seriously enough. Schedules are handed off to junior people or secretaries, sometimes without the proper tools.• The only solution here is education, especially at the senior management level.
  20. 20. 20Reason #8 – The Accidental ProjectManager• Similar to the unsupported project manager, this takes it a step further.• In this instance, an accomplished person is promoted to project manager. He may have been successful in, say, a technical role, but it does not mean he will be successful in a PM role.• The technical role may have had him relating to machines. The PM role will require that he perform the delicate balance of interpersonal skills.• As in the previous reason, the only solution here is education of both management and PM.
  21. 21. 21Reason #9 – Team Planning Sessions• Ideally, you will bring the entire team together for a one or two-day session to plan the project.• This serves several purposes. One is that it brings often far-flung teams together to meet and discuss issues. Another is that it brings much needed expertise to the PM so that she may create necessary project artifacts (WBS, schedule, risk register).• This is a best practice and as such, should be aimed for. But if you are unable to bring the team together, it can work if you create, say, a WBS and circulate it among the team. Not optimal but much better than not doing it at all.
  22. 22. 22Reason # 10 – Monitoring and Controlling• M&C is all about setting baselines, monitoring for variance and, if need be, taking corrective action.• Many people don‟t record actuals and hope that the schedule doesn‟t run over.• Merely using % complete in your schedule won‟t tell you how the actuals have affected the schedule.• You should be thinking about how to measure completeness. For one example, you can use milestones to measure progress.• This is a lot better than asking the team member for how “done” he is. How would she measure that?
  23. 23. 23Bonus reason # 11- Fixing the wrongproblem.• Sometimes managers, on realizing that their projects are out of control, reach for a quick fix.• Often, they start sending people out for certifications or other training thinking that this will somehow solve the preceding problems. But while certification is good, in and of itself it won‟t solve the problem.• You have to get to the root cause of the problem to determine if it makes sense to get people trained, certified, etc.• Often the fix is not in training PM‟s but rather in having a culture that sets realistic deadlines with the right number of resources.
  24. 24. 24Actions going forward• A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Chinese proverb• Don‟t try to solve every problem all at once. Prioritize and attack.• One way to do this is to tell your boss you want to improve process. Then add a process improvement challenge to your quarterly objectives. So, I will incorporate change management into the company by Q2.• And if you don‟t get it by Q2, keep going anyway. Persistence will get you there.
  25. 25. 25Contact information• Jim Stewart, PMP• (781) 750-8748 (o)• (781) 223-7218 (c)• Linked In:• Web Site:• Blog:• Twitter: @JimPStewart