As project and analysis consultants to a wide range of South African companies, we’ve seen our fair share of project struggles. Whether it’s time or cost overruns, or just not being able to meet the project objectives, we’ve jumped in to assist with quite a few tough situations.
The interesting thing, however, is that despite their completely unique goals and nature, projects usually fail for the same reasons, and it almost always comes down to a set of clear foundational issues that need to be addressed.
We rounded up our Analyze team to get their views on the most common reasons why projects fail. This is what made it to our top 10:
1. Poor communication
Clear and frequent communication is a critical project success factor. Without it you find yourself in a situation where nobody knows what’s going on or what’s expected of them.
Roles & responsibilities, project plan details, progress updates, issues and risks all need to be part of an ongoing communication plan to ensure that everyone’s up to date and ready to take action.
2. Lack of stakeholder buy-in & support
Stakeholders should have a vested interest in the project. If they don’t see the value in what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle from day one.
It is important therefore to ensure that your stakeholders have a clear understanding of “what’s in it for them” and what you’re going to be needing from them in return.
3. Poorly defined requirements
In order to properly define your requirements you first need a clear understanding of the business problem (or opportunity) you’re trying to tackle. Treating symptoms without understanding the cause is the easiest way for a project to go off course.
Requirements also need to be aligned with business goals and objectives in order to deliver real value at the end of the project.
4. Insufficient planning
There’s a saying that goes “a goal without a plan is just a wish”, and with projects this is most certainly true.
It is important to take the time to do proper planning upfront by breaking down your project goal into the various tasks and sub-tasks required to achieve it. If you don’t have a clear picture of how you’re going to get there and what resources will be required, you are destined to fail.
5. Unrealistic estimates & timelines
Delivery dates cannot be set without first understanding the effort involved, and effort estimates cannot be provided without supporting details like requirements specifications and design considerations.
We have to get out of the habit of making statements like: We have to be live by x date. Rather rephrase that statement to: We will determine what can be delivered by x date.
6. Scope Creep
Once you’ve agreed on what your project will deliver, by when and at what cost, you have to safeguard against unplanned scope changes.
Saying yes to changes that “creep” into your plan without highlighting & agreeing the time and cost impacts with the project sponsor puts unnecessary stress on the project and can ultimately lead to non-delivery.
7. Competing priorities & over allocated resources
When you have key resources working on many different projects at the same time it’s a difficult balancing act to adequately service all.
Priorities change and resource allocation can be adjusted, causing various cross impacts and delays. If a ring-fenced team is not an option, this needs to be raised as a major risk from the project outset.
8. Lack of strong leadership
You have to ensure that your project manager has the right level of qualification and experience.
We’ve seen many instances of what we refer to as the “accidental project manager” where someone who’s done well in their job has been promoted to a project management role. Realistically however, project management comes with its own unique skill set – something which can only be achieved with the correct training
9. Ineffective progress tracking
How many times have you asked the question: What % of this work is complete? More often than not, the response will very much be a guess, typically an overinflated one, giving you a false view of actual progress made.
A far better way to track progress is by looking at the planned start date and completion date of an activity, and then the actual work items that have been completed for that task. You want to avoid a situation where you’ve been sitting at 90% for a couple of weeks with no clear end in sight.
10. Poor risk management
Risks need to be actively managed throughout the project lifecycle. Risk management therefore does not stop at simply creating a risk log at the beginning of the project.
Mitigation and avoidance tactics need to be executed in a timeous fashion and your project team should always be on the lookout for new risks that may crop up as the project progresses.
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