Project Practitioners > Failure to Follow Fundamentals Equals Failed Projects

Failure to Follow Fundamentals Equals Failed Projects

By Jerry Perone

Following the fundamentals of project management is as important as eating to feed the body. If you don't eat, chances are your body starts to fail. If you don't practice the fundamentals of project management, chances are good that the project will fail. It's the responsibility of project managers to apply project management fundamentals to their projects from start to finish. What I've found out in my almost 25 years of PM experience is that when projects fail it is because the fundamentals were not followed. I've also found that the fundamentals were not followed because either the project manager didn't know the fundamentals or did not apply them for some reason.


Often, the reason the project manager didn’t apply the fundamentals was not even a choice; it wasn’t out of laziness, a desire not to do a good job, or something similar. We as project managers can know the fundamentals and simply not understand how to apply them. Simply put, this is like a doctor knowing all the parts of the body, how they connect, and even knowing how to perform and operation. But if the doctor has never performed an operation, he or she will not be able to perform that first incision accurately; he or she will not be able to apply the learned knowledge as someone who has practiced medicine for years. You can send the doctor to more training, the doctor will still not have necessarily practiced the skills being learned.


I offer this to get to a point about a problem I see developing in the project management world – with throw too many of our project managers into training thinking that it will correct the application problem!  Training is an excellent, mandatory, beginning to becoming a great project manager. But going to years of training does not mean a project manager will have the capacity to apply the necessary skills to real world project management scenarios. What’s more important is that a balance exists between project management training and applying what is learned.


For example if a student attends training for Project Risk Management, after the course is over he or she needs to practice … practice … practice applying those steps!  Nothing could be truer than the old cliché “Practice makes perfect.”  Professional football players do not only go to training courses on how to throw the ball. A quarterback may spend years in training courses learning about spirals, the proper physics of a pass, and then walk onto the field and not even know what to do. I’ve seen this happen to the smartest PMs in the field. They’re educated, well rounded, disciplined, and developed in their thinking. They receive the best opportunity from the best Fortune companies and then their projects fail. It wasn’t because they didn’t know what to do. They simply didn’t have the appropriate experience applying what they knew – applying the fundamentals of project management.


I actually did a formal study about this. I observed numerous projects and their managers from start to finish. Some were PMP® and others were not. What I found is that there was no statistically significant difference between the project variances at completion. For the certified and the uncertified, project failed and projects succeeded.


What this means for you: know the fundamentals and practice applying them!  This is the most important nugget of information I could provide to any project manager.


In the weeks to come, I will be taking a closer look at the fundamentals of project management. I will also continue to discuss ways to help you fix troubled projects. If your troubled projects are in danger right now, begin looking at the unacceptable variances, conduct an audit of the project, and interview the project manager and others involved. There is a good chance that one or many of the basic fundamentals of project management are not being followed. Find out what fundamentals are causing project failure, and make specific changes to ensure those fundamentals are followed. Whether it’s a simple communications plan to ensure stakeholders receive appropriate information or a more clear definition of scope. Find the fundamental flaw and implement a plan to fix it!


Take care for now,


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