11 May How to Overcome Project Failure by Breaking Tradition
Across industries, 50 per cent of projects fail.
The traditional thinking is that project failure can stem from changes in project scope, aggressive timelines, or inadequate budgets. But at such a high rate of failure, the root cause of project failure can be found in the traditional expectations of project managers versus what they actually have to deal with in assignments.
The root cause of project failure can be found in the traditional expectations of project managers versus what they actually have to deal with in assignments.
The Traditional Project Management Structure
In its earliest days as a profession, project management managed military, construction, and engineering projects. Later, IT projects were added. These types of projects often come with very large budgets, deep pockets, defined end products, clear timelines, and easily identifiable milestones.
A typical project involved three distinct groups, in three phases.
- In the Analyze Phase, a large consulting company – with an expensive team – is hired to do a feasibility study. They would determine the costs of the project and any potential risks of failure. Then they would develop a blueprint or project charter.
- During the Build Phase, a project manager puts together a project plan based on the blueprint or charter. The project manager could spend weeks with a group planning anything and everything for the project. Then as now, there would be piles of reports produced that few people would read.
- In the Communication Phase, an expensive group of change management consultants develops a communication strategy to ensure the organization is ready for what the project charter outlined.
Traditionally, each team, each with its own skills and expenses, individually performs its role to bring the project to completion. If each group manages its own timelines and budgets effectively, they avoid any project failures.
The Project Failure Disconnect
But this structure does not reflect today’s dynamic business environment – and it hasn’t kept up with the reality of project management’s spread into areas like marketing, sales operations and other traditional non-project functional areas.
With reduced headcounts, lowered budgets, and fast-paced environments, sponsors in these organizations rarely designate three different groups, meaning the project manager has to do all these jobs, though he or she may be trained for only one. Project managers create plans and charters, manage change, and determine feasibility, scope, and risk, on top of their role in planning and building.
With aggressive timelines, limited resources on cross functional teams and organizational change causing key sponsors to shift roles, on top of the distractions in the modern workforce, it is a wonder that any projects succeed.
Breaking the Tradition of Project Failure
To reduce project failure, organizations need to view project management differently and facilitate training to fill the gaps.
Use these key ideas to think of projects differently:
- Following Agile principles, project managers should produce discrete “wins” so that if budgets are cut or the organization does change, there’s been something achieved. Think about pilots, rolling out solutions to smaller user groups, breaking larger projects into smaller achievable pieces.
- Project managers require varied skills in analysis, planning, and communication to prevent project failure. Instead of working in structured silos, successful project teams engage in all three phases.
- Traditional project management assumes users are going to accept change and executives are going to enforce it. This is rarely the case. Everyone impacted or who needs to provide input or who needs to provide signoff needs to be sold very early about the change early in the process. This doesn’t mean every project needs comprehensive change management, but every project does need a level of communication focused on making sure everyone buys into the final result.
- Effective project managers are naturally talented individuals whose talent is augmented by tools and training that lets them do their job without being weighed down by traditional constructs. Skilled managers avoid project failure by developing and implementing comprehensive skills in all consultative methods, project management and communications strategy.
Sales Beacon’s project success rate is 99%. To see more ways we avoid project failure and drive success, check out this post on why you should manage a sale like a project.