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Projects failing? Why do so many still fail?

It’s really important to maintain a big-picture perspective when it comes to project management and subsequent (inevitable) project failings, losses, bumps in the road and unforeseeable obstacles.

Certainly, while unforeseeable events are unavoidable and often at no fault of project teams, there are extensive aspects of project management which present tangible opportunities for premium maintenance to oversee and secure supervision, increasing the likelihood of success. These aspects present features which can safeguard against complete failure (such as a clear scope of work), so first, must be clearly identified, captured, communicated and controlled with teams, for the entire life of the project.

Delays, issues and even interpersonal conflicts are part of the rich tapestry of the project management industry, and rather than seeing these elements as a burden or something to be feared, instead, it’s wise to view these challenges as opportunities for process, people and operational improvement overall, for the betterment and enhancement of future undertakings and the life of project management entities.

Often, the reason for so many project failings (not only within tasks or smaller deliverables), is due to a complex series of issues that have a cumulative, knock-on effect, impacting team morale, milestone completion and successful project roll-out.

In this article, we’re going to guide you through some of the most frequently encountered aspects of project failure, so that you can further understand typical project management errors and enhance your ability to lead others to a successful, fruitful outcome.

WHEN THE SCOPE OF WORK SHIFTS LIKE SAND

One of the more frequent contributing factors to failure is unplanned changes to original and agreed scopes of work, which disrupt and deter from successful completion. It’s crucial to maintain consistency and a stronghold on governing project management details and specifics.

Whether you use an excel spreadsheet, bespoke project tool or other, the tools of the trade are not as relevant as the way that they are used, shared and engaged with. A lock or freeze subsequent tangents of milestones i.e. ‘the nitty gritty’ require critical closing out on original items, contributing to completed milestones along the way.

It’s not helpful (rather it is harmful), when project parties simply amend and reconfigure details, to suit a struggling context.

The integrity of original requirements, limitations, scope and resource allocation is paramount to success – even if those aspects are temporarily or permanently unachievable within key stages of the project, better to have continuity within concepts than regular and unfettered updates which drain resources, time and ultimately, energy.

POOR PROJECT PLANNING TRAINING

A project secretary, intern or new starter who has been left out of the loop regarding typical project processes and protocols can bring a whole lot more than an administration undone. That’s why it’s really important to ensure that all of the project team members are ‘fighting fit’ – not only in terms of their competency to deliver tangible results within their respective areas of expertise but in terms of their access to ‘tools of the trade’, along with robust and appropriate training too.

Excellent resources and great plans aren’t worth a tack unless they are accompanied by understanding and real know-how. That’s where courses (whether long or brief), specifically targeted to training project members can be of immense value both in the short and long term.

Formal courses such as the APM Project Planning Course are a great addition to foundational project knowledge and can be immensely helpful to project participants in all sorts of roles.

Formerly known as ‘APMP’, The APM Project Management Qualification is targeted at people who want to delve into a deep, overall understanding of project management, so that they can contribute in meaningful ways that make a difference and support successful completion.

When project managers make the mistake of withholding knowledge, training opportunities or good communication, everybody suffers including stakeholders, teams, the company and even its reputation.

As the proverb goes: ‘A chain is only as strong as its weakest link’ and often, the weakest link is not who you’re thinking – often, it’s the person designated with full project accountability, who fails to delegate, determine risks, and roll-out relevant training. Effective delegation is key to the whole process running smoothly.

So, it’s important to be savvy and welcome opportunities for broader understanding from project participants, but it will only work if those team members have the right tools and the right training.

COMMUNICATION CONUNDRUMS

Most project managers know the familiar scene where a colleague appears to be busy and yet, somehow, manages to do little of value to key deliverables and outcomes. It’s not always an act of apathy or disinterest in fact frequently, it’s a fear of saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘is this right?’. Importantly, solid communication can only occur within a culture that supports open dialogue, rewards honesty and respects instances of claiming mistakes, errors and misunderstandings.

It’s important to teach your colleagues and teammates that not only is it okay to be wrong or unsure on tasks – it’s vital to come forward when aiming for group victory.

Communication is the bridge between misunderstanding and understanding, and often, all that is needed to correct, redirect and properly implement a corrective action is to simply have a conversation that allows for depth and detail.

Many times, project participants are embarrassed to come forward and request clarification or correction on tasks that have been assigned to them. The relatable panic of uncertainty is often followed by a hap-hazardous self-guided improvisation strategy, which contributes to the beginning of cumulative chaos.

Cumulative chaos is the slow-burning fire of projects. When small and addressed immediately, the fire can be put out with minimal impact and issue, but when ignored and left to spread, major damage ensures – financially and otherwise, recovery becomes hard to near impossible. Keeping communication regular, concise and clear is the extinguisher to all fires.

For a successful project delivery, remember to:

  1. Stick to the Scope of Work
  2. Provide Relevant Training
  3. Cultivate Clear Communication

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