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Why Do Projects Fail?

Avoiding Common Project Management Pitfalls

The road to successful project management is littered with obstacles. Here are some of the most common elephant traps, and how to avoid them.

Project failure is such an ephemeral topic, it is hard to produce solid statistics. But research from one project management consultancy suggests that as many as 70 percent of projects are deemed a failure.

In this day and age, when project management is a core part of every business and we have the best resource manager software and other online tools at our disposal, you might think that there must be a golden recipe that will guarantee project success. The 70 percent number might be taken with a pinch of salt, but there is one thing we can definitely home in on – when a project does go south, what are the main causes?

Scope creep

When consultants tell businesses that the most important part of project planning is defining what you are going to do, they are usually met with the well, duh reaction familiar to parents of teenagers. Sure, it sounds obvious, but failing to properly define and agree the scope is the single largest contributor to project failure. If the scope is not set in stone, and the project manager, the client and the team on the ground are not completely aligned on what they are, and just as importantly, are not, setting out to achieve, scope creep is inevitable. Now whose turn is it to say well duh?

A ship without a rudder

A project doesn’t manage itself. It’s another seemingly obvious statement, yet there is project after project that is left in the hands of someone with no training in project management. Sometimes it is a secretary, sometimes it is a general manager who has 100 other operational issues to attend to, and sometimes it is someone on the technical or engineering team who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Poor resource allocation processes

We mentioned resource management software earlier, and with the tools that are out there, there is really no excuse for getting resource allocation wrong. The point is, the project will succeed or fail on the basis of its resources, whether these are materials, manpower or expertise. When multiple projects are going on at the same time, it can certainly be a challenge to make sure everything, and everyone, is allocated effectively. But with the right tools and planning, there is no reason for it to all go wrong.

Failure to manage risks

The Institute of Risk Management defines risk as something that could have an adverse consequence and prevent you from meeting your strategic objectives. In every project, factors like that lurk around each corner. The project manager needs to sit down with the team before the project gets underway and “imagineer” what could go wrong, assess the likelihood and impact of it happening and implement mitigating controls. Risk management needs to be an ongoing process, as the risks, the impacts and the controls can all change over the life of the project.

The known unknowns

Not everything can be predicted with complete accuracy at the project planning stage. But those uncertainties can be factored into the plan, and revisited through management and monitoring over time. Donald Rumsfeld might have prompted widespread ridicule with his known unknowns speech, but there is a nugget of wisdom in there.

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