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Building Greatness: Why Some Projects Fail and How to Avoid It

Dipti Parmar

Despite strong talent, careful planning, abundant resources and enthusiasm, projects fail.

They fail to deliver the intended results -- and when this happens time and again, you’ll have a major problem.

In fact, just a third of projects in IT sectors are considered truly successful: a quarter of projects are usually declared as complete failures and abandoned, and the remaining ones run over time and budget.

Worst yet, they often still fail to add the intended value.

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Many say these are just poor odds, but even if we agree for argument’s sake, the implications are usually significant. A mere wrong decision can waste months or years of work, apart from adversely affecting your business and reputation in the long run. But the question now arises:

Why do projects fail and what businesses can do to avoid such failures?

There are countless reasons as to why a project fails, and even more excuses. Blame it on your horrible boss, incompetent project managers or lack of resources or collaborative environment.

More often than not project managers are responsible for such failures and bring your business down. Even project managers with the best of intentions sometimes miss the leadership quality, which in turn, leads to overall project failure. A Gallup research report found that around 82 percent of the time companies fail to hire the right talent—especially for management jobs.

A bad boss or an incompetent project manager can get in the way of successfully completing a project. The biggest project management mistakes are obvious in hindsight, but can be hard to spot during the bustle of development. Keep your eyes open for these four killer mistakes:

1. Poorly Defined Objectives

Project objectives must be clear from the very beginning so that it is easy to focus on what’s required and measure the outcome based on the goals. Here is what you need to do to clearly define project goals and objectives:

Ask the right questions to identify the right project goals and objectives

  • Why are you doing the project?
  • Why is it important both for the organization and the team?
  • What pain points does the project intend to address?
  • What are its deliverables?
  • What represents the success of the project, apart from its time and budget?
  • How to judge the success/failure of the outcome?
  • Who has a stake in the outcome?

Project goals help you define the desired outcome, objectives define the road map to accomplish the goals. But both the goals and the objectives must be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. Also, define the activities required to accomplish each objective and who is responsible for the same along with the timeframe specifics.

2. Lack of Team Support

Projects are doomed to fail when everyone in your team isn’t properly involved and feel responsible. Lack of support between departments is another reason for project failures.

This happens under various circumstances, including:

  • Not defining the role of each member
  • Team members being clueless about the personal payoff/recognition
  • Lack of clearly defined guideline regarding the contributions of each team member
  • No sense of urgency within the team

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So what’s the solution to this issue? The solution largely depends on the project manager. He/she needs to bring the team together, including both on-site and off-site members. Start by calling the team together leveraging the best technology available such as video conferencing and collaborative tools. It is also essential to deliver the project presentation so that everyone in the team is aware of its significance.

Focus on resource matching as well by analyzing the job and the competencies of the member(s) responsible for it. Precisely monitor the progress and fine-tune the process to accommodate contingencies and changes.

Also, recognize that the development of the team members in essential and be helpful, constructive and motivational in your approach to encourage them to create action plans for the future. 

3. Lack of Communication and Collaboration

Teams and managers need to communicate effectively with the client and other stakeholders as well to have a consensus on goals as well as to meet certain standards. Without effective communication things are more likely to go downhill pretty quickly.

Ineffective communication and lack of collaboration usually leaves everyone within the team, including the manager, frustrated and befuddled. Team members, on the other hand, start blaming each other for incompetency as they fail to realize the goal or the mission of the project in the first place. Those few who at least understand the mission of the project don’t always explain it clearly to others. Even on the rare occasions when they do, the message generally gets lost in translation.

A better solution is to have a fixed date and time each week to have a team meet. It can be either in-person or virtual meeting or both. The goal is to keep everyone on the same page, which is essential to keep the project flowing as well as to allow scopes for future changes that often arise due to risks and emergencies. Also, have a communication and strategy stating the frequency of the meetings, agendas, and the name of the participants.

Again, avoid criticism during meetings and be constructive; let people voice their ideas and concerns. In the case of intra-team conflicts, resolve them before they become major issues. What teams require is a collaborative environment where constant and consistent communication is encouraged. One way to achieve this is by implementing a collaborative project management solution that encourages and facilitates regular communication and meetings apart from keeping everything organized.

4. Promising Overly Optimistic Project Timelines

Even your most noble intentions can go wrong. To keep clients happy, project managers often end up promising an overly optimized timeline for a project that even they know would normally take more time than what has been promised. This may initially make your client happy but what about missing deadline? And to be on time, the only option is to force your team members to work overtime, which is more likely to adversely affect their productivity and the quality of the work.

Again, a quality project management software is your best option here. Apart from helping you to ‘manage’ the projects efficiently, these tools also help you determine the bandwidth of available resources so that you can provide delivery timelines accordingly. They help you in upfront planning and estimation, including the impact of the project on your existing resources in real time. Thus, allowing you to select and prioritize the right projects and also optimize resource usage by scheduling them and aligning tasks even before the projects commence.

However, it is usually recommended to keep a buffer time, should something go wrong or take more time than initially estimated.

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If you have been making any of these project management mistakes, it’s time to review your strategy. The secret to successful project management is to make your team more productive by providing proper support to learn and grow within a collaborative environment. If you can achieve this and clearly define the objectives of the project(s) as well as the role played by each team member, nothing can stop your business from becoming more productive and successful. Remember a project becomes successful when all parties walk away satisfied, including your team members.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Dipti Parmar Member
Dipti Parmar is the digital PR strategist and account manager at Preceptist and handles content marketing campaigns at E2M. She helps brands and individuals with their marketing while keeping their online reputation spotless.