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Why Projects Fail
By Thomas K. Casey

If you stay around long enough, sooner or later you will be asked by your boss to participate in your company’s latest, critical, red hot project. The ‘survival of the organization’ depends its success, and it gets kicked off with great fanfare and emotion.

Then reality sets in, and the project manager is charged with executing the plan. Trouble is, the plan is usually faulty from the get-go and, despite all the skills and resources brought to bear, the project comes in late, over budget, or not at all.

“So what went wrong?”, everyone asks. Actually, any number of things that are common to many large scale projects, be they construction, information systems, enterprise re-engineering or product development. They can be classified as follows:

1. Executive Level Non-Support

When a project begins, the entire executive team shows their support for the new project. Of course, the CEO is also present. Gradually, as the effort affects each of their domains, some Vice Presidents will approve changes to the overall plan, seriously impacting the schedule. All executives must stand behind the project plan if it can have any chance for success.

2. Improper Staffing

This falls into two categories: (A) unqualified staff, or (B) insufficient or unavailable staff. Most often, in these days of downsized operations, it is the latter. John and Mary are “dedicated 100%” to a project, yet they are unrealistically expected to perform their other duties as well. Sure, overtime is a solution, but a poor one. I have NEVER seen a project succeed when overtime is pre-scheduled into the plan. Outside resources or consultants are the best alternative when in-house staff resources are inadequate.

3. Poor Project Management

Very few skilled managers ever get the opportunity to manage a project from inception to completion. As a result, most assigned project managers lack the experience in handling the broad range of problems that arise during the course of a project. This lack of experience, coupled with “100% dedication” (see #2 above), manifests itself in poor project leadership and control. I have long been a proponent for using an outside resource to augment the project manager’s skill base and availability. Why put a project in jeopardy simply to save some dollars in consulting fees?

4. Unreasonable Completion Dates

I have never understood why, but management in its wisdom will declare target completion dates, or worse…DEADLINES, even before a project plan is constructed. This is akin to planning a vacation destination, with no idea how you will get there. The worst culprits are financial executives, who insist on everything being done “by year end”.

5. Poor Project Planning

Constructing a project plan is a complex combination of resources (both people and dollars), calendar, task dependencies, skills, training and change control. While many tools exist to assist in this process, it is the analysis of an experienced project manager that is needed to develop the plan and smooth out its deficiencies. And a plan is never completed, because it is updated at least weekly, thus changing the entire project timeline and the overall schedule.

As you can see, many variables come into play during the course of a project. Next time, please don’t shoot the project manager!

Thomas K. Casey, CMC, CCP, Principal
Business Consulting Services
“If You Truly Want To Improve Your Business Performance and Results”

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