Potential Reasons – Why Do Project Fail and How Project Managers Can Prevent?

failures during the entire life of project execution. Many projects fail, especially IT projects. The only way that companies can get better at performing projects is by learning from projects they have carried out. There are small things which can decide fate of project. These all in project management practice and research, has been to see it as a threat and as something that should, if possible, be neutralized, reduced and followed.

Introduction

In a perfect world every project would be “on time and within budget.” But reality (especially the proven statistics) tells a very different story. It’s not uncommon for projects to fail. Even if the budget and schedule are met, one must ask –

Question – “Did the project deliver the results and quality we expected?”

Answer to this question could be different in different perspective. There is no single method or organizational structure that can be used to manage projects to success. Project failure can happen in any organization and to any project.

There are many reasons why projects (both simple and complex) fail; the number of reasons can be infinite and can fit into different phase of SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle), initiation through go live. Sometimes it’s out of the control of a project manager and/or the team members. Sometimes failure is controllable. Failed projects and people involved with the failure have some things in common. I have tried to draft few critical and most basic reasons based on my experience for project failure and may differ project to project.

From outside view, it could be that all reason will roll up to project manager’s responsibility and accountability however from my perspective it should be collective responsibility.

Here are the some of the common reasons why project fails – based on my experience.

1. Incompetent Project Manager

First possible cause of project failure is the project manager. A project manager who helps steer the project in a timely fashion and provides sound, inspiring leadership can go a long way toward bringing about a successful project. Reasons like “an incompetent project manager” “project manager unwilling to make decisions,” “project problems ignored”, “poor management by the project leader,” “loss of control by the project manager,” and “the failure of the project manager to delegate”, “working as only as coordinator” are most important reason given for project failure.

2. Less Involvement of Project Managers

This is always a topic of debate for project managers: Should they just focus on pure project management activities such as reporting, cost and issue tracking, or should they also dive into ground-level review and design? There is no correct answer. Even the biggest project depends on the success of the smallest components. Every detail contains a seed that can mean the difference between success and failure. On relatively inexperienced teams, project managers must be involved in the details for key activities. This will help them have better control of the effort as well as provide true status of the project to stakeholders.

3. Unavailability to Skilled Resources

Every project has some resource estimations before starting of the project and even every vendor submits key personnel details and profile as part of bidding process to acquire project. However picture is always opposite once project is awarded. Initial resource estimations and loading sheet handed over to project managers as part of sales hand over process but I have seen that project managers always struggle for right skilled resources hence it is necessary that leadership team should understand criticality and provide planned/skilled resources on time to avoid project delay or failure.

4. Lack of Proper Planning

Project managers should have clear projects outcomes visibility and should involve himself./herself right from sales hand over as this phase is critical for project success. If you don’t have a clear focus at the earliest stage of the process/project, you are making things harder on yourself. This would lead to inappropriate estimations and half cooked planning.

5. Lack of Management Support/Leadership Alignment

It is important to ensure that the senior management remains fully engaged throughout the project life cycle. The involvement e.g. through project update sessions imply that they are willing to take appropriate actions to address issues raised by the project team, mitigate the project risks, provide leadership, thus contributing to the project success.

6. Missing Communication

Communication plan plays very substantial role in project success or failure. Plan should contain stakeholder details I.e name, role, contact no. and email, project team details, escalation matrix and other dependent groups. Information distribution details (stakeholder, information detail, distribution methods, format and frequency) should be clearly defined in plan. To save your project from failure, project manager need to establish a clear communication channel.

Effective communication within any organization is important to keep all your team members on the same page, avoid confusions and keep them motivated. By communicating with your team, project managers can develop an environment of trust, proactively kill conflicts, which would bring the best out of your team and eventually lead to a successful delivery of the project.

7. Ignoring Change Management Process

Take a second before your project starts to undergo significant changes, or even before you look for a technology solution. It’s critical to define your change management process steps. A firm understanding of change management principles will serve as a strong backbone for any change management plan. Change is inevitable, irrespective of the size of your project. Whether good or bad, it must be managed well to ensure the project continues without disruption. Every project must have a change control process, and every change request, however small, must go through it. The change’s impact should be documented, approved and presented to key stakeholders so that everyone understands its effect on quality, cost and schedule. The focal point of any leader tasked with change must be to align their team with the vision. Communication is a crucial component in ensuring every team member is on the same page.

8. No Risk Management Process

Many projects fail because there is no risk management process as an integral part of the project management process. I am not surprised because I have been on many projects where the risk log is created at the start of the project and then quietly parked, never to be seen again. Then guess what – a perfectly predictable situation arises which no one knows how to react to.

It was in the risk log but no risk response was created so the predictable outcome is a less than optimal project. My own feeling based on my experience is that you ignore risk management in a project at your risk.

9. Inadequate Quality Assurance

Now this is where the technicality comes in. Software projects often fail when no quality assurance activities are planned and no systematic activities are performed to evaluate the quality of development process or ultimate deliverables. This is because managers often fail to project appropriate reviews tests or checkpoints where quality can be verified. Code review is part of this (as defined in #20).

10. Missing Project Management Tools/Framework

Successful projects are based on a methodology or framework that includes project management tools. Right approach can help project managers to stay on top of the project and by using some reliable management tools; project managers can enhance the team’s productivity, can increase accuracy and save time by automating activities like task tracking and managing dependencies.

A great number of unsuccessful project results from missing methodology and framework, which leads to inaccuracy and wasted time. There are numerous project management frameworks and methodologies (like Agile, Iterative) and they can support efficient delivery.

11. Company/Project Culture

Company or project culture should not be supported with political environment. It should support competency, skill, professionalism and transparency. If it isn’t, team members will not be motivated to do their best. Basically, everyone involved must be participated in their part of the project to successfully complete it. Any actions which project managers take to move project execution from the political arena into an objective and analytical one will improve the project’s success. This involves managing and retaining the most highly skilled and productive people. Knowledge is money. It is job of project managers to manage and motivate so that project efforts will experience a zone of optimal performance throughout its life.

12. Inappropriate Prioritization

While some work best on a small number of requirements, others are better suited to very complex projects with many decision-makers. But regardless of when it is done, before a requirement can be prioritized, project managers must consider why requirement is most important from a business standpoint and what would be the impact of this on overall system whether new requirement would add value to overall system or it will be overhead. Project managers should lead prioritization exercise along with all relevant stakeholders. There are a number of possible business considerations, including value, cost, risk, and improve customer experience, stakeholder agreement and urgency variables.

13. Inaccurate Stakeholder Analysis

Stakeholder Analysis is the first step and an important process that successful project managers use to win support from others. Managing stakeholders helps them to ensure that their projects succeed where others might fail. There are three steps to follow in Stakeholder Analysis. First, identify who your stakeholders are. Next, work out their power, influence and interest, so that you know who you should focus on. Finally, develop a good understanding of the most important stakeholders based on Power/Interest grid, so that you know how they are likely to respond, and how you can win their support which can lead project success.

14. Use of Unfamiliar Tools

Tools are definitely needed for project execution and success but unfamiliar tools may lead to chances of failure as well. Sometimes, it can cause many severe problems during project life cycle as the team has to deal with the learning curve of new tools along with usual project tasks and duties. Project managers should ensure that tools are not enforced on project team members, just to utilize for fulfillment of audit compliance unless tools adding some productivity and save some efforts.

15. Change – Always saying “Yes’ to the Customer

Many behaviors can cause a project to fail, but accepting whatever the client says is sure to spell project doom. Initially, a stakeholder might appreciate your flexibility – but that will be overshadowed later by the impact of possible schedule slippage and unmet objectives.. Change is a major cause of project failure. Project specifications can be changed for several reasons: initial planning was not complete or thorough; Senior-level management changed the scope of the work; the client (if not upper-level management) changed the scope of the work; this isn’t to say that you should always tell customers “no.” If you do that, they’ll feel their concerns are not being addressed. Before you commit to something, perform due diligence and analyze the pros and cons of your decision.

16. Bonding between Project Team Members

It is the prime responsibility of project managers to unite the team members to achieve a common goal. The stages a team generally goes through are: forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning. As a project manager, a good understanding of these stages would help in guiding a team from infancy to maturity which creates needed bonding.

Things can easily go from good to bad very quickly if there is no unity between your team members. Consider a scenario in which all team members are moving in different directions. Could you expect a positive result to come out of this situation? There could be many reasons from personality differences to conflicting interests. All of them contribute towards taking you one step closer to project failure.

17. Unrealistic Expectations

At the beginning of a project, it’s important to set realistic expectations for every member or stakeholders who are a part of the project. If the project kicks off without setting goals for individual team members, they are most likely to lose clarity and focus somewhere in the middle. Project managers must have one on one session with individual team members and help them understand their role in the project. If goals are set before the project is in full swing, the members would have a roadmap to follow that prevents them from derailing the project.

18. Talking Through Problems

Condensing bad news internally for long enough will only seed the explosion later on. It’s is fine to do for a limited period, but you will need to take some time to pull it out, examine it, feel it, and study it so you can find a way to re-channel it, or transmute it into another kind of energy. Quite often we face the dilemma of whether or not to deliver bad news to stakeholders. And too often we forget this truth: Clients have a vested interest in the success of the project. They have every right to know any development impacting the outcome of the initiative. You will end up having this heavy thing on your chest that will never move. You will never understand what it is about. The problem is that we believe that sharing problems will make us weak, and that stakeholders will start to judge us for our short-comings. Maybe they do. But stakeholders having higher interest who genuinely care about project and you very well know these people, will come out and help. Sharing helps you feel less burdened, because you now have less things on your mind. This will also allow you more space to put new thoughts, planning things better.

19. Guesstimates – Efforts

A “guess estimate,” also referred to as a “gut feel,” is based on personal intuition and past experience. But even the most strongly held conviction could be faulty. An inaccurate estimate can leave a project team slogging day and night to meet a deadline. The project might finally be delivered on time-but with a huge effort overrun. If time is pressing, use Function Point technique, Function Points are units of measure for functional size as defined within the IFPUG Functional Size Measurement (FSM) Method and it is the major global functional sizing methodology. Project Manager is responsible for accurate and re-estimation post sales hand over. If efforts guesstimated or not correctly estimated with appropriate tool then it definitely impacts one of all three critical project parameters- Cost, Scope, schedule.

20. Avoiding Code Reviews

Assuming that testing will catch bugs or that defects are fixed faster when you know where code is breaking. You’ll only end up increasing the risk of schedule slippage as the inflow of defects rises during testing and the turnaround time for code fixes increases. Code review helps produce a stable, quality deliverable. Its focus is not only to catch code defects but also to look at critical dimensions that may not get caught during testing, such as code optimization and requirement coverage.

21. Skipping Prototyping

Defects can result from a misunderstanding of requirements and a misinterpretation of stated requirements. Even if requirements are well-documented, they must be validated for correct understanding. Only by a visual walkthrough can users spot the differences in what they expect and what’s being built. Feedback must be planned at various stages throughout a project to reduce risks. These feedback loops will help you spot gaps early and provide enough time for correction. A sketch, wireframe, mockup, and prototype are all unique ways to visually display the requirements of your project with varying levels of detail. Understanding that level of polished output each of these present will keep expectations aligned and communication clear between all the stakeholders.

Conclusion

There could be many different, seemingly independent causes of project failure. However, it becomes clear that many of these causes are actually linked to project managers (which may differ project to project) and their way of execution. Past failure should not discourage project managers from future efforts. Past examples of IT project failures gives us the opportunity to point to the relevant lessons that can be derived from recognizing areas where IT projects is more likely to fail.

Changing the project’s scope not only affects cost, but it also affects schedules and resource allocation. One way to overcome to all causes is that the various stakeholders and project team of the project should be included in a very thorough planning process, thereby maximizing the input from the various vested interests and broadening the understanding of the project manager and team members resulting in success rather than failure. An improvement in success rate of IT projects is possible by putting significantly more focus on general-management activities. With accurate planning, defined goals, clear assignments and effective communication, proactive managers can overcome those odds to master, even the most challenging project and also required support of leadership team which can help project managers to complete more projects on time, within the allocated budget and with expected benefits/outcomes.

The 5 W’s of Management – What, Where, When, Why and Who

Management is a common term and is widely used. It is essential in any type of organization.

Management is basically ensuring combining efforts of available resources towards required objectives/ goals/targets.

Management is an activity of purpose. It is a process and not an event or happening.

Management primarily needs to create an enabling situation. Required things or results need to be made to happen. Management cannot wait for things or results to happen. It cannot give reasons or situations that prevented required results from happening. In fact, good management is one which foresees all possible constraints and plans strategic actions to work around them to achieve targeted objectives. Therefore, good management has to be efficient and also effective. Efficiency means doing a task the right way at economic costs within available resources. Effectiveness means doing the right things.

Management depending on situations and individuals can be a Process, Activity, Discipline, Group, Science, Art or Profession and explained below:

“Management is a process that defines a sequence for a set of planned activities to utilise available resources optimally, effectively and economically to achieve required results at the right time”. Management can be a social process since it primarily deals with humans in getting them to plan, organize and perform activities that produce required results in a timely manner. It is also an integrating process since it integrates various resources like humans, financial, machinery, equipments and materials to produce required end result. Finally, Management is a continuous process and goes on in search of newer targets/objectives and results when current ones are achieved. Management cannot be said to be over but goes on and that’s why is precisely defined as a process.

As an activity, management can be informational, decision-making or inter-personal. Management can never be done without flow of information between involved resources. Once information flows decision has to be taken otherwise nothing moves forward toward completion. Lastly, good management is characterised by good person-management skills that gets everyone involved, motivated yet willing to give one’s best happily.

As a discipline, management pertains to study of principles & practices of basic administration. It specifies methods for its practitioners to manage any type of organization. Management is formally taught leading to diploma/degree/masters globally in institutes and universities enhancing a person competency and thereby one’s employability at higher levels of responsibility.

Eminent research scholars, thinkers and academicians continually further the discipline of Management. This is then wide-spread through the various institutes that teach various management programmes to students who are selected through rigorous selection procedures.

There are family owned businesses that have the family members at the helm and qualify as Patrimonial or Family Manager. Those with formal qualification in Management are known as Professional Managers. Heads of political parties and government-owned enterprises/corporations/undertakings are Political Managers.

Management is accepted as both, an art and a science. Management has well researched and documented knowledge and has proven examples to confirm its applicability to day-to-day life and hence is undoubtedly a science. Not everyone can be a successful and authentic manager. Few individuals have that skill, finesse, adequate knowledge and a personal style that makes management an art.

Management practitioners are usually categorised in to Top level, Middle level and Front line Managers globally across organizations. Top level Management usually frames the objectives, policies, strategies and directs others towards achievement. Middle level executes the top level’s plans and directives whereas front line managers actually get the job done.

Objectives of Management are generally regarded as optimising results, efficiency and rewards. Improving of human life and social living standards and making everyone goal and achievement oriented.

Management functions, as defined by KOONTZ and O’DONNEL are widely accepted and are considered as Planning, Organizing, Staffing, Directing and Controlling.

Another globally accepted management fundamental are the 14 Principles of Management defined by Frenchman Henri Fayol. The important ones amongst them are Division of Labor, Principle of One Boss, Unity of Direction, Equity, Order, Discipline, Initiative, Fair Remuneration, Stability of Tenure and Sub-Ordination of Individual Interest to General Interest.

Why Is Management Important?

Organisations globally need team work to achieve goals. In 2015 management positions are projected to increase by 5-9% at the global level.

Effective practice of Management helps individuals at personal, professional and social levels to:

1. Accomplish goals

2. Be more efficient

3. Manage time better

4. Take informed and right decisions

5. Increase earning potential

6. Increase success and happiness levels

Effective, efficient, ethical and continuous practice of Management always holds individuals and organisations in good stead creating prosperity, satisfaction and productive use of time at economic scales. Add to this continual up-gradation of one’s knowledge and one has a sure-shot recipe for success.

Ajay S Kini is Principal Consultant at A.KINI & Co