If a project manager ever tells you that they have never experienced project failure, they are only kidding themselves...and you. As a matter of fact, 70% of companies report having at least one failed project in the last year. [1]

No matter how prepared you think you are, many things can go wrong with a project – unexpected issues, roadblocks, changing scope and shifting priorities. It is the project manager’s job to identify and mitigate these risks as much as possible but sometimes it does not go as smoothly as planned. 

Here are some tips that can help you avoid project failure:

Have a Business Case

I got hired on at a small software company years ago. There were multiple projects being worked on concurrently including a brand new product. The team had already been working on the product for about 6 months, but it still had a ways to go before it was completed. It ended up taking another 6 months. As it turned out, there was no market for the product and it was eventually shelved.

Ask yourself these simple questions to help determine if you should move forward with a new project: 

  1. Does it align to company goals and objectives?  
  2. What is the vision and purpose of the project or product? 
  3. What are the tangible benefits?

Avoid Unrealistic Timelines

Another company that I worked for did have a valid and approved business case for a new product. Unfortunately, I was given a hard deadline with not enough planning time or skilled resources to handle the work. The product was delivered by the deadline, but it was riddled with defects and did not provide the features originally requested by the customer. 

It’s never a good idea to provide an estimate or completion date to a customer without consulting with the team first. Not only does this leave a bad impression when you don’t deliver as promised, it is also very frustrating and demoralizing to the team. If there is no flexibility on a deadline, consider rolling out the project in phases or use an iterative (Agile) approach.

Collaborate with Business Teams

I was assigned to implement a company-wide system. The project appeared to be moving along without a hitch until we got closer to the “go live.” It was becoming clear that the selected solution might not be right for the particular industry. In fact, the software had been selected based solely on what someone had implemented for companies in the past—and without any regard for how the business actually operates – tasks, workflow, etc.

Ultimately, the software was replaced with a more appropriate system. Bottom line:  there must be ample collaboration and alignment with business teams up front. According to CIO.com, the IT department of the future will see greater interaction with the people who use the technology they create, both end-users within their organization and external customers. [2] That’s a sure strategy for project success!

Have you recently experienced project failure? If so, what lessons did you learn from it?

[1] - KPMG New Zealand: Project Management Survey 2010
[2] - CIO.com:  How to Prepare for the IT Department of the Future

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