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Key Factors for Project Failure

Essential Skills for Project Managers

You might be familiar with many of these pivotal elements that contribute to project failure, as they are extensively discussed. However, what's often missing is guidance on acquiring the essential skills necessary to navigate these hurdles and complexities to prevent the occurrence in the first place. Our training program, "Lead With Impact – Essential Skills for Project Managers," offers pragmatic and straightforward insights into boosting your project success rate.

The list below gives you the ‘what’ what you actually need to answer is the ‘how’. How do I mitigate a lack of clear objectives, scope creep, poor communications etc.  This is the focus of our training and coaching programmes, we give you the ‘how’

Also highlighted in this section are situations where you may need to bring in Subject Matter Experts, i.e. ‘The Big Guns’ whose job it is to be responsible for specific deliverables, this is their day job, not yours, you manage them as an input to your project, these game changers amongst others are:  Business Engagement Managers, Communications Specialists and Testing Professionals – all worth their weight in gold, if your project justifies specific work streams dedicated to any one of these subject.

Here are our top risk factors for project failure:

Inadequate Planning: Poorly defined project scope, unrealistic timelines, and insufficient resource allocation will disrupt your project.   It’s not about the plan…… it’s about the planning.  In this stage of your project it is critical to have engaged with the all the ‘right’ stakeholders, understand the business case, it’s objectives, the assumptions, the key risks and dependencies and have a laser focus on ‘What Don’t I Know’…. Then you can craft an effective plan with your team.

Lack of Clear Objectives: Projects without clear, well-defined objectives and outcomes are prone to veering off track.   Question the business case, what problem are we solving?   What does success look like, what assumptions have been made?: who are my stakeholders?: What is their interest?: Clear targeted questions will give you clarity, you will need to dig deep to ensure you have fully understand what outcome is expected and how your sponsors reached this objective.   What assumptions were they working to, do they understand the cost and resource requirements to deliver this?

Scope Creep: Continuous change is part of projects, it’s what we do, these additions to the project scope can disrupt timelines, budgets, and overall project goals if not managed effectively.   This will always be part of your project, scope creep comes in for various reasons, the one reason it can’t be……. Is that you haven’t asked the right questions and/or made clear, in detail and documented the key products and deliverables for your project.   Scope creep can also be attributed to quality, you may have delivered the outcome but does it meet the quality standards expected.  This shouldn’t be a surprise to you.

Insufficient Resources: Inadequate staffing, budget constraints, and lack of necessary tools can hinder project execution.    After you have understood the business case, documented the scope, submitted both your financial and resource forecasts and you are not allocated the level of resource required to deliver the project – this needs to be front and centre of your risk profile – you cannot wait until your project suffers from lack of resources to flag this.

Poor Communication: Communication gaps among team members, stakeholders, and management will result in misunderstandings and misalignment.   Every project should have a communications strategy that is relevant to the project and its’ complexity at the outset, .   It should include project communications, business communications, 3rd party communications, it needs to be part of your ‘Start As You Mean To Succeed’ processes.

Undefined Roles and Responsibilities: Unclear roles and responsibilities will lead to confusion, delays, and lack of accountability.     Another project start up task.  Your team should consist of people who have the skills, capacity and experience to deliver their outcome.    As part of your ‘Start As You Mean To Succeed’ strategy is to not only define the project team roles, but align them to outcomes, not tasks.

Inadequate Risk Management: Failure to identify and mitigate potential risks can will to unforeseen issues derailing the project.   You need to know where the matches are stored before the building catches fire.  This is a core competency for any project manager.   If you have developed a robust risk framework based on the business case, the scope, the financial and resource profile, including the technology, the environment and the people, you should have a diligent, articulate risk framework, every time you come across a scope change you should be referencing your risk frameworks.

Lack of Stakeholder Engagement:  A ‘Big Gun’ task, if your project has a significant impact on the business, bring in Business Engagement & Change specialists, they will build out stakeholder engagement models, identify and engage business change agents, deliver impact assessments on the change, work with communication specialists to develop effective communications plans. Ignoring stakeholder input and needs will result in poor adoption and resistance to project changes.    A project start up process that should not be ignored, identifying and engaging your stakeholders is a critical task at the beginning of any project.

Changing Requirements: Frequent changes in project requirements without proper evaluation and impact assessment can lead to chaos.  As mentioned above in ‘Scope Creep’, change is a consistent in projects.   This is about unmanaged change.  This chaos can be avoided if you have been diligent in your project start up:  Diving deep into the Business case, asking the ‘Unasked Questions’, engaging stakeholders and writing clear, unambiguous documentation and plans and ensuring the whole team understand the detail of the plan and it’s expected outcomes.

Inadequate Testing and Quality Control: Skipping thorough testing and quality assurance will result in defects and system failures and reputational damage to you and your project.  For most some projects you will build in beta testing and pilot phases to extrapolate errors and process defects.  The value of a test plan designed and developed by a professional tester is hugely effective.  Another ‘Big Gun’ task if you don’t have in-house resources.  If you are delivering complex technical change or a project that will have a significant enough business impact, we will always recommend you bring in professional testers, either in-house or an external company who specialises.   They will build out a professional test plan, map out the ‘As Is’ state and build out User Personas or Application test frameworks depending on what you are delivering.     

Ineffective Project Leadership: Poor project management skills, lack of direction, and insufficient leadership will contribute to the failure of your project.    There are many additional skills that are essential to being an impactful, successful project manager that are not part of the standard curriculum of your methodology training.   Leaders inspire, managers control.

Unrealistic Expectations: Setting overly ambitious goals without proper assessment of resources and constraints will lead to failure.    You need to get laser focus clarity on this, starting with the Business Case and diving deep into the rationale, there are many questions to be asked here among them, the business benefit, what the expected outcomes are and what will it take for them to have considered this project a success.    It is critical you use all your effective questioning techniques during the early stages to understand the expectations and more importantly the quality criteria for a successful outcome.

Vendor Issues: Dependence on third-party vendors without proper management can lead to delays and compromised project outcomes.    This is a difficult one, how to manage 3rd parties who are external to your organisation.    Some projects will have vendor interest i.e. if the project is a benefit to them, if not, getting time and input with the correct level of skills will be challenging.   One for the risk log with a heavy weighting.

Technology Challenges: Adoption of new or unfamiliar technologies without a qualified, experienced subject matter expert will lead you into a whole world of pain.   The challenge for PM’s is how to understand if your ‘SME’ has the expertise to design and implement your solution.   In ‘Leading with Impact’ we have some practical tactical techniques on how to manage this risk.

Resistance to Change: Lack of buy-in from stakeholders and team members can hinder successful implementation.   Another ‘Big Gun’ task.   Business engagement and change specialists are worth their weight in gold.   Depending on the scale of the change and the impact to the business, we, more often than not build a business engagement and change work stream and bring in specialists to manage this under our stewardship.   It’s a game changer not just to the smooth delivery of your project but to the perception of the project by the wider business.    Project Managers are trained to manage change, but business engagement and change is different, it has its own discipline and frameworks

Inadequate Training and Support: Insufficient training and support for end-users will lead to poor system adoption.   A ‘Big Gun’ task.   Depending on the scale of the impact in functional change you should consider engaging professional trainers to design, develop and deliver your end user training programme.   They will bring in their repeatable solutions and frameworks and will drive adoption rates of new technology.

Lack of Accountability: Absence of clear ownership and accountability – this should be on your list of key tasks in project start up.     One of your early tasks is to identify your Sponsors, team members and key stakeholders and align them not to job functions but outcomes – what are they responsible for delivering.    Ensure your team members have ‘outcomes’ they are responsible for, not just a list of tasks.

Poor Project Governance: Inadequate oversight, decision-making, and project governance – the key here is adapting an ‘appropriate’ governance model.   You should look at implementing some of the basic governance frameworks in EVERY project without exception, but also recognise where you may be able to adapt your governance based on your risk profile and the project you are delivering.   Think ‘Do it by the book, just not everything in the book’

Ignoring Lessons Learned: Failing to apply lessons from previous projects is project management 101 material.   Why would you?

Cultural and Organisational Factors: Organisational culture that resists change and lacks alignment with project goals is more common place that you might think.   We have a dedicated module in our training focused on the importance of organisational culture and how to manage a difficult culture.