Why projects fail – part 4

by Stuart on 26 November 2010

And finally ….

Project runs late/budget exceeded

Any project is a balancing act between time, cost, and of course quality.

Cost and time are clearly related, and there are a million reasons why they come up so frequently. If I had to choose, I'd say the two most common problems come from optimistic estimating and indifferent teamwork.

How often have you embarked on a DIY project that is an FMJ (5 minute job) only to be still working at it when everyone else has gone to bed?  When you set out, you didn’t intend this to happen, but you didn't give the job sufficient thought, didn't consider all the things that might go wrong, in short, didn't think it through.>

Your project is filled with well-meaning people like you who don't always think things through, and who don't like giving you unpalatable information. As project manager, you need to be absolutely sure that estimates you’re given reflect real life, not the fantasy world that most of us inhabit.  In your project, a task that overruns will cost you in salaries, heat, light, etc etc, not to mention embarrassment when the launch date is missed. There is no miracle cure for keeping projects on track.

The best technique I know is keeping on top of things. You need to know what is going on in your project, not what you’re told is going on.

Consider these two project managers.

Fred sat in his office most of the time, working on his computer. He used Microsoft Project, and his plan was absolutely up to date, all the time. All the resources were there, all the costs, every last detail. He had the team report progress to him weekly by email. His project review meetings were a dazzling display of whizzy technology.

Bert spent 80% of his time out of the office, talking to the team, understanding the problems, celebrating the successes. He knew how far they had progressed from first hand experience. He knew which of the team’s estimates were good, and which not. He knew what was going to happen before it did, and he took steps to modify his plan. He made sure all the team were involved. He maintained his plan on Project, too, but his project reviews were not so flashy as Fred's.

Who do you think was more successful? Bert’s projects didn't hit absolutely all the dates, but he was always a lot closer than Fred. And Bert’s team would have jumped through hoops to achieve a milestone – his team really was a team. All Fred had was a group of people who worked in the same place.

Project management is not just about planning and scheduling. A lot of it is about teamwork and managing people. Often the people on your team will not work for you. You'll have to work extra hard to meld them into your project team. But it is worth every minute you spend on it.

 

Conclusion

Sorry – there are no magic answers.

You can’t just turn a handle and deliver a successful project, but now you are aware of the top five pitfalls in this risky business, you are in with a better chance.

Project management is a risky business, and that's part of the fun – go on, enjoy!

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