Posts Tagged ‘project failure’

My Project Is Not Failing

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Maybe we are all reluctant to accept that our project might be failing but with high project failure rates in many industry sectors we should make sure we are able to spot the main warning signs. And then act on them rather bury our heads in the sand and hope it will “be alright on the night”. That approach will never lead to a successful project or a successful career in project management.

Just because things might not be going to plan doesn’t mean a project is doomed – managing problems and risks is all part and parcel of a project manager’s role and a risk management plan should be in place that will help to mitigate the very risks that might be causing problems. If a risk plan has not been prepared, don’t worry it is rarely too late to review the real and potential risks that might be threatening your project and to deal with them effectively. Problems that materialise in a project, whether expected or not, are inevitable in many industries and with a controlled approach they can usually be mitigated.

The very fact that problems so often arise in IT projects, for instance, is what led, at the beginning of this century, to the creation of the Agile Manifesto, with its values and principles designed to help project managers work constructively to solve problems rather than either being defeated by them or trying to ignore them. An agile approach recognises that many projects are simply unsuited to the traditional “waterfall” approach and offers an alternative where deliveries are made in small stages allowing for user feedback to be incorporated into the next stage. Increasingly both waterfall and agile methods are recognised as appropriate for different types of projects and in some cases they are being combined on a single project.  All projects have their ups and downs so it is important to remain optimistic in the low periods and remember that things will change.

It is reassuring that the formalisation of project management methodologies over the past 20 years has led to a significant improvement in project success rates. Increased used of the internet has also helped by making status reports quickly and easily available so that problems don’t drag on undetected for too long.

 So what are the warning signs of a project that could be destined for failure? If your know how to spot these and act on them you already have the means to turn a potential disaster into a success. Warning signs of pending trouble are usually relatively easy to spot – here are some typical ones:

 1.      Lack of Buy-In

When those working on a project have been pressured into becoming involved they will never be fully committed to its success and will not give 100% of their time or energy to the project.

2.      Poor Communication

Communication takes many forms; there are the informal team discussions, regular meetings, emails, phone calls and various written reports and other documentation. If any of these areas are lacking then there is likely to be a problem looming.

3.      No Visible Progress

If it is not possible to see what has been achieved to date then it is difficult to convince stakeholders and the team that success is possible. A lack of visible progress (or “velocity” in Agile project management) is de-moralising for everyone involved.

4.      Long Hours

If the project team are having to put in long hours just to stay on top of the scheduled activities then this is a classic indicator that all is not well. Either the original estimates were badly wrong or the scale and scope of the work was not clear.

5.      Milestones Missed

Milestones should deliver manageable chunks of work to the customer on a frequent basis. If this is not being done, or the deliverables cannot be tested by the customer, there is no opportunity to get feedback for the next phase to know the project is on the right track.

6.      Changing Scope

Every project’s nightmare is scope creep – adding to the requirements during the project – it is usually an indication that requirements were not fully documented or the customer did not understand the aim of the project. But often a more serious warning sign is when features are being removed from scope and the end-product is being scaled back.

Remember that warning signs such as these give you the opportunity to rescue a project from failure so should not be ignored but treated as part of the project management process. By looking out for warning signs and using your experience and personal skills (supplemented with the right project management courses) a project manager can avoid project failure.

Author: Michelle Symonds

Rescuing a failing project – A 4 step plan

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Projects can fail for numerous reasons. Original budgets may not match the practical realities of a project, or the responsibilities and roles of team members may not have been clearly outlined at the beginning of the planning process.

A general lack of clarity about the direction of a project, and a failure of communication between different stakeholders and parties can also delay success and lead to confusion about responsibility over project delivery.

However, there are ways to rescue a failing project, which involve engaging with a four step plan that reviews, revises and resets goals and communication for a project, while working out the best forms for its delivery.


1 – Reviewing Problems

The first step in rescuing a project is to review the problems that caused it to fail, or be delayed. Re-evaluate the original goals of a project, and break down what the plan was, and whether overestimations were made.

Moreover, check that anything was not picked up on in the planning stage, and bring in as many different viewpoints as possible. These viewpoints might include managers, team members, sponsors and stakeholders. At this stage, it is also worth making a hard decision about whether a project can be saved.

2 – Revise and Set Out New Goals

If a project goes ahead, draw up new goals and a set of differentials that will ensure a better delivery. Are there extra factors that need to be budgeted for? What are the expectations and the input of stakeholders and sponsors? Can a system be put into place that can deal with risk, and that can swiftly respond to any problems?

Getting this structure right before setting a deadline is vital, as it ensures that no one in a project team feels like they don’t understand how to react to any obstacles during their work.

3 – Ensure New Expectations Are Met

Ensuring that these new expectations are met does mean being pragmatic about budgeting and the restructuring of a team. What needs to be reduced, and how can communication be managed to speed up the process of a project to best meet deadlines and priorities?

Moreover, it is important to decide what the focus of particular parts of a project will now be, and how much of a budget can be realistically spread out to hit the parts of a project that need the most attention.

4 – Decide When the New Project Will Be Delivered

A clear deadline needs to be made for when a project will be delivered, which will need to be agreed on amongst a team and other parties. Again, communication is vital to ensure that everyone stays on the same page.

A software project management tool is particularly recommended for achieving this communication, as it can enable realtime conversations and an exchange of information.

Similarly, by restructuring a management team and ensuring that there are contacts that people can rely on to troubleshoot any problems, it is possible to refocus a project into something that has shared aims and failsafes.

While rescuing a failing project does require a lot of hard work, by creating a strong team environment, and by establishing a clearly structured management structure, the original goals of a project can be revived and clarified for all involved.

Amy Henderson

Amy Henderson has been involved in running a business in the past. Amy enjoys writing on business/technology related topics and is currently guest blogging on behalf of Iris who specialise in small business software.