Project Practitioners > Reasons For Project Failure

Reasons For Project Failure

By Morley Selver, P.Eng IPMA B

This is a continuation of the article on reasons for project failure. Here I will look at some of the project management issues that can lead to project failure.

Insufficient stakeholder consultation

One of the success factors for a project is integrated teams, i.e. you have all the stakeholders on board at the beginning of the project. You need all the stakeholders to get agreement and consensus around the project objectives. If you are the Owner, then you should be looking for the stakeholders on your side. Sometimes it’s easy and other times it is hard to find the stakeholders. But, it has to be done. As the Owner, you can not pass this on to a consultant to do as they do not know the people on your side. There are three categories of stakeholders you need to be aware of; those that can be influenced, those that can be controlled, and those that have to be appreciated. The appreciated ones are usually hiding in the woodwork, wait until you are at an important point in the project then jump out and tell you that it can’t be done. If only you had  asked them they would have told you, but, you ignored them, so now you have to pay the penalty. This happens all the time, that’s why you have to dig deep to find the stakeholders. 

You also have to be aware of what is happening around you as the environment is constantly changing and so could your stakeholders. We did one project where we had all our stakeholders on board at the beginning, got their buy-in and proceeded along with the project. The project was about a year between the start and the issuing of drawings. We were just going to issue the drawings for construction, when we got word someone wanted to make changes to what we were doing. What happened, was over the year, the facility was making changes elsewhere, nowhere near where we were, that ultimately affected us. The new stakeholders had more influence over the project outcome than we did so management made us make changes to part of the project. We got more budget to make the changes, but it extended the schedule. 

Inadequate planning

All of your funding documents should have some form of Project Execution Plan. To develop this plan, you need to know the scope. As you know, scope is the most important variable in controlling your project costs, so you need to know what your total scope is. To determine the scope we need to do some project planning which is usually the work breakdown structure.  The work breakdown structure is the most important tool you have for project planning and extends the planning process. Even in your every day life, you do some type of work breakdown structure to determine scope. As an example, if you wanted to paint a room this weekend, you would do some type of work breakdown structure to determine what the scope is. You may not write it down but you would probably think it. If you don’t have a work breakdown structure, how do you know what work has to be done, what’s it going to cost, and how long is it going to take.

When we start a project, we start off with an Interactive Gantt Chart session. For this, we gather all the team members in a room and using a white board, with the dates across the top, use Post-It-Notes to determine the preliminary work breakdown structure. It should show the interactions between the work packages and a sequence of construction. This is used to determine schedule, responsibilities, and scope definition.  This can change throughout the project, so every couple of months we sit down with your scheduler and do another interactive session on the computer. We want to make sure the schedule and task links still apply.

Poor team communications

Managing projects requires having regular team project meetings. At these meetings cost, schedule, technical issues, and progress are discussed. The meetings are necessary to keep all your team members informed as to what is going on and you have to understand what is going on.  On my projects I like to visit all my team members on a regular basis to see how they are doing and what are they working on. Sometimes the message is not clear and here is one way to find this out. You can not have team members frittering away time by going off in the wrong direction. Believe it or not, by taking the time to visit the lowest person in the project hierarchy helps build team morale. 

Vendors are part of your team and there can be issues with them. If you are working with vendors in a foreign country you have to make sure you have regular teleconference meetings with them. On one project we did, we had weekly teleconference meeting. One person on the Vendors side spoke english, we would ask a question and they would confer in their language and respond in english. Sometimes, they did not understand what we were asking or requesting what we wanted done. In the end, we had to send someone to Europe to make sure they understood what we were looking for. At a recent workshop, one of the attendees was dealing with a European vendor and they were having the same communication problems we had. On all your projects, you should be prepared to hop on a plane and travel somewhere to make sure that the communication  is understood.

Unclear roles and responsibilities

The project roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined. When they are not, team members don’t know who to go to for information or approvals. In your project documentation, there should be a section on roles and responsibilities and it needs to be kept up-to-date. This should be part of your team communications so there is no misunderstanding as to who does what. As you’re aware, you cannot have two people performing the same role. This just causes mass chaos and “spinning your wheels” on your project. 

Poor team morale

Poor team morale results from poor leadership. As a leader you have to change your management style to match the style of the person you’re trying to motivate. There are many things that go into keeping the morale of the team going, but at the end of the day it comes down to project management behaviors. Project management is about managing the human resources to get the team to meet the project objectives. If you, do not understand project management behaviors, or are a poor people person, you will not have project success. Every one of you reading this article, know of one person that you will never work for again. The reason always comes back to the person did not have the people skills to manage people. You need to realize, it is the human resource that is between you and project success.

Next month, I will continue with more reasons for project failure.

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