Project Failure Avoidance

February 3rd, 2007

Senior executives frequently bet their companies on Mergers & Acquisitions, major product releases, strategic IT projects, organizational restructurings, fast-paced downsizings, outsourcing, or aggressive quality initiatives. These bets rarely play out as anticipated. With estimated failure rates ranging from 72 to 91%, companies’ collective inability to execute on major projects costs hundreds of billions of dollars a year  Business and project leaders can substantially improve their organization’s ability to execute projects and initiatives by paying to attention to these common attributes of a failed project.

  • Deadlines and resources
  •  Sponsors
  • Priorities
  • Communication
  • Team work 

The results show that failures can be both predicted and prevented.  Most projects fail for reasons that are widely perceived and understood, if they were just discussed more openly along the way. The best predictor of the future of a project is the quality of just a handful of early warning signs that must occur along the way. The five crucial attributes of a pending failure are address the problems of:

  1. Fantasy Deadlines – when a project is set up to fail by setting deadlines or resource limits with no consideration for reality.
  2. AWOL Sponsors – when sponsors don’t provide leadership, political clout, time, or energy to the project.
  3. The whim of changing priorities – when powerful people skirt or manipulate the priority-setting process.
  4. Ostrich and the sand – when team leaders and members don’t admit when there are problems with the project, but instead wait for someone else to speak up first.
  5. Lone wolves – when team members are unwilling or incapable of supporting the project.

Anytime an organization launches an initiative that entails high levels of interdependence among levels and functions, there will be difficulties. But these five problems indicators are more common than most senior leaders realize. 90% of project managers routinely encounter one or more of these five concerns and nearly 20% of projects are plagued by all five. And yet these problems are not a death sentence for projects.

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