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Project Success & Failure

Project Success & Failure

Author: Jeff Carroll

This lesson provides an overview of why projects fail.

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Source: Image of project fail arrow, plan document, cracked line, process box, Creative Commons, Sparkol Videoscribe internal image; Image of project manager female, Creative Commons, Kelly Eddington.

Video Transcription

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Hi, I'm Jeff. And this lesson is about project success and failure. With project management, it's important to understand what might cause a project to fail, so that those issues might be lessened or completely avoided. So let's get started.

A project is considered a failure if it never concludes or if it doesn't achieve its defined outcomes. Failure can occur for any reason. But we'll discuss four main categories of failures and the common examples within those categories.

Since projects are ultimately about people, the first category is problems with project participants. And issues can arise with all members of a project team. Certainly if the project manager's a poor choice for the project, the project can have issues.

Sometimes leads are chosen for their technical knowledge and they lack experience with project management. Or project managers with little knowledge of a project type or its deliverables can encounter problems. In either case, projects can fail because of these reasons.

Perhaps the project sponsor is wrong. A sponsor chosen by seniority instead of passion or knowledge of the project goals is often an issue. A sponsor must be committed to resolving the problem or opportunity the project is trying to address.

A project team can be chosen poorly. A team might be transferred to a new project only because they just completed another project, for example, with little to no consideration for their expertise or applicability to the project. Or just the opposite, a team might be cobbled together from broad areas having no relationship to the new project to which they're now assigned.

Or there's just a lack of important skills and expertise on the project. Organizations that are moving into new areas of business encounter this problem often. Or organizations that are growing quickly and hiring new less experienced employees.

Now, a project manager might not have control over hiring or even the choice of project members or sponsors. But if they see these issues with people on a project, it's still their responsibility to communicate to the stakeholders about the problems that might result from these choices. Which brings us to our second category, problems with the project process. Or in some cases, the complete lack of process on a project.

Sometimes those without project management experience don't see the value in a consistent process and they avoid it completely. Perhaps when the project is small or simple, they succeed for a short period of time. When issues arise, as they often do, the lack of communication and consistency immediately becomes a problem. Then that project manager will be left struggling to put a process into place for a project already in the middle of work.

Perhaps, though, a project manager is not given sufficient authority. They're required to submit all decisions to stakeholders or another committee, for example. Though a project can succeed in this manner, the delays caused by the decision making process must be acknowledged and planned at the beginning.

Unclear scope is one of the primary reasons for project failure, and is often a result of process problems. Either the scope wasn't defined clearly in the beginning of work, or there's not a process in place to address changes in scope quickly. In either case, scope changes will impact the budget and the schedule.

Too many changes can be catastrophic for a project. In addition to scope, if the project risks are not identified early and risk mitigation plans put into place, then projects can waste precious time and resources when those risks occur.

As we discussed earlier, project management is often about clear and concise communication with all members of a project. Lack of communication can make many problems worse. For example, if information is not shared quickly, both about a projects positive and negative issue, a project can fail. If key stakeholders are kept out of the communication loop or if the stakeholders aren't identified during an early phase, than they may not cooperate as well when a project needs their assistance. Communication might be happening, but if it's not clear and effective, than the message might be lost.

There is quite a bit of noise in a project, and it's up to the project manager to understand what details need to be passed along to different individuals. And if stakeholders are unable to come to an agreement, possibly it's because they've not received the correct communication. In that case, a project can halt in its tracks.

Not everything is going to be within a projects control, though. Unforeseeable circumstances can hurt a project. For example, changes in an organization structure perhaps due to a merger or an acquisition can change the goals and the scope of a project. And though we hope it doesn't happen, company downsizing can remove key project members and lead to project failure.

In fact, there are many issues outside of a project's direct control. And even issues that are beyond an organization's control too. The marketplace could shift such that the results of a project are no longer needed. Just ask anyone who worked on a project that involved vinyl records, cassette tapes, or VHS.

Or the competition might be a project to its goals, forcing changes in the final deliverables. It might seem as if nothing can be done about these unforeseeable circumstances, but that's not true. It's still the project manager's role to establish processes that can help a project team respond quickly to any issues, even those outside their control. And it's a project managers direct responsibility to continue to communicate to everyone about a project status, no matter what occurs.

OK, that's all for project success and failure. I realize it can be challenging talking about potential failure. But a project manager must understand the ways a project might fail since it's their role to help everyone handle setbacks and ultimately help a project succeed.

As a reminder, those major reasons are problems with project participants, problems with the project process, problems with communication, and unforeseeable circumstances beyond the project managers direct control. Thanks. And have a great day.