Big Project Failures Claim Their Victims in Spectacular Fashion

You’ve just been assigned a high visibility failing project and you’re working round-the-clock to get the work to the client on time, despite the fact that the job bears barely any resemblance to the project you initially discussed. The scope keeps creeping, the risk and issue alerts are coming in thick and fast, the project is already two months past the original deadline, the clients are getting antsy even though they’re yet to provide you with various key pieces of information in order to baseline the project. Is this your chance to shine and showcase your skills?

If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You Will Probably End up Somewhere Else – Laurence J. Peter

If you manage to turn the project around and the project is successful, you will attract many fathers. However, if the project fails, you will probibly be offered up as the sacrificial lamb (scapegoat), there is absolutely no way around it. A high percentage of projects fail to deliver useful results, that’s a fact.

Project managers are regularly blamed for schedule delays and cost overruns for projects they inherit by no fault of there own, however, in most cases, the fault for such issues rarely lies with just one person.

Sufficient data has been gathered to indicate that blockers such as unsupportive management, senior sponsorship or low resource availability are as much to blame for project failure as ineffective stakeholder management or poor communication.

Capture all decisions

The only way to protect yourself is to ensure that you capture all decisions made in the project. In most cases many of these decisions will have been made by people above you. While you can influence decisions made by people under you. Get into the habit of building a dashboard early in the project and updating it each week with actuals. Also consider using a standard repeatable technique to analyse the health of your project.

Constrained resources

If you are in a project where resources are constrained, clearly outline the resources that you require to deliver the project in terms of time, scope, budget, risk and quality. If resources are pulled from your project, clearly articulate the affect of that in delivery terms and measure that to time delayed or cost added.

Risk and issues register

Operate a strong risk and issue register, ensure it is both visible and assessable so your team can actively participate in updating it.

Stop the project

Always remember, cancelling the project is not always a failure. There can be many reasons why the project may no longer be desirable now. If you have done your job well, you can be really successful by ensuring a project does not continue to meander along, wasting time and money when there is no possibility of completing the project.

Organisational change management

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said when there are organisation change management issues.  While there are a few project managers who feel their jurisdiction ends at the triple constraint, most now understand the need to achieve the expected benefits from their projects.

So when is it fair to blame a project manager for poor implementation of a project’s deliverables, this is assuming that they were employed at the beginning of the project?

  1. If they didn’t perform good stakeholder analysis during the project initiation stage as well as at regular intervals.
  2. If they turned a blind eye and deaf ear to factors that could impact value achievement
  3. If they didn’t insist on a clear communication strategy and progressive information sharing with relevant stakeholder groups.
  4. If they didn’t engage influencers from key stakeholder groups throughout the project lifecycle.
  5. If the organisation management deliverables were not built into the project’s scope definition and work breakdown structure.

Assuming the project manager was appointed at the start of the project and had undertaken all of the above, what are invalid reasons to blame the project manager if the project failed?

  1. A lack of timely resource availability or commitment by the organisation
  2. Directives to the project manager to not engage certain stakeholder communities
  3. Ignorance by senior sponsors to management risks raised by the project team
  4. A management decision that is too bitter a pill to swallow in spite of how much it has been sugar coated

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