Leading A Successful Project In A Turbulent Time


  • Author Dr. Dina Randria
  • Published March 25, 2024
  • Word count 2,333

Failure To Learn Versus Learning From Failure

Project management is one of those things that appears simple until you do it. In the world of project management, certain projects will inevitably fail. However, some of these failures can be easily avoided. This article analyses the key indicators of a failing project as well as frequent and ineffective approaches to dealing with failure. It then explains techniques for determining the cause of a project’s failure, as well as strategies for organizations to salvage failing projects. It wraps up by suggesting a strategy that can assist businesses in defining success in order to mitigate project failure.

Simply put, if you board a plane today, your chances of dying in an accident are approximately 1 in 30 million. Through rigorous accident investigations and a willingness to examine every aspect of the situation, the sector has consistently improved its safety record. Unfortunately, success rates for projects in today’s enterprises are significantly lower, and evidence suggests that projects are just as likely to fail now as they were twenty years ago. Many people reading this have probably been involved in a challenging project at some point in their careers, and others may be in the midst of one right now. The rationale for this is that we not only find these failures intriguing, but also that each project failure has at least one practical lesson for project managers who are interested in improving their project management skills.

Why Do Projects Fail And Why Do We Need To Study Failure?

This section aims to help organizations increase project success rates and serve as a learning resource for Project Managers by answering the question “why do projects fail?”

There are numerous causes of project failure, and each unsuccessful project will present its own set of challenges. Sometimes a single trigger event causes failure, but more often than not, it is a complicated interconnected series of problems combined that result in project failure. In general, these issues are divided into two categories.

Things the team did do but did poorly or things the team failed to do

The framework for project failures are as follows:

Failure To Ask The Fundamental Question Of What Are We Really Trying To Achieve?

Failure to comprehend the why behind the what leads to a project that fails to meet the organization’s actual needs. Failure to articulate the “why” in a concise and clear manner to be used for communicating the project’s aim to the organization and serve as a focus point for planning. Project objectives may be inconsistent with the organization’s overarching business goals and strategy and there is a lack of coordination across many initiatives scattered throughout the organization, resulting in misalignment or potential conflict between them. Another red flag for project failure is that after describing the project’s vision and goals and getting the green light from the project sponsor, the material was put on a shelf and was never been used as a reference for future decisions.

Failure To Establish A Clear And Concise Project Scope

Requirements are defined without explicitly consulting or involving individuals who will utilize the finished product. The lack of formality in the scope definition process leads to ambiguity and differing interpretations of what is in and out of scope. The project requirements are created with the premise that everything will work as envisioned. Failure to properly understand the operational context in which the product or the service being produced will work once the project is completed. Finally, there is this failure of not addressing substantial scope volatility or uncontrolled scope creep without taking action to anticipate it in advance.

As The Saying Says: If You Fail To Plan Then You Are Planning To Fail

Planning is considered as solely the Project Manager’s role rather than a team effort. Underestimating complexity results in modification requests being handled informally, without analysing their ramifications or giving permission to schedule and budget adjustments. Failure to plan entails jumping into the performance and execution of work without first taking a step back to ponder. Failure to break down a large-scale master plan into smaller, more manageable sections that can be delivered in stages. Requirements are never prioritized; therefore, the team focuses its efforts on lower-priority tasks rather than high-priority activities. Failure to provide adequate user training while deploying the project’s product into the operational environment. There is a lack of anticipation to address potential challenges down the road. Finally, project fails due to a proper initiative of adopting a risk management plan to mitigate change because it is viewed as a separate activity rather than an essential component of the planning process.

Poor Estimation Has Become The Norm

Estimation is performed based on insufficient information or analysis, without reference to a repository of performance data or metrics from previous successful projects. Estimates are provided without a commensurate declaration of scope and at random in order to secure a contract or make a project more appealing. Estimation assumptions are never documented, debated, or validated, and those who will, actually, perform the task are excluded from the estimating process.

Failure To Establish A Project Governance Structure

Failure to build effective leadership in one or more of the three leadership domains, namely business, technology, and organization. The Project Manager lacks the interpersonal and organizational abilities required to bring people together and achieve results. Failure to identify the appropriate level of project oversight means that, either, the Project Manager micromanages the project, demotivating the team, or they fail to track things carefully enough, leading the project to go completely out of control. Last but not least, one of the mistakes today’s organizations fail to realize is to appoint a Project Sponsor who does not take ownership of the project seriously or believes that the Project Manager is solely accountable for the project’s success.

Failure To Identify Or Engage The Stakeholders

Project fails due to a failure to develop efficient communication and it is very common among project stakeholders. Failure to see the project through their eyes results in a failure to understand how the project will affect them or how they will react to it. Allowing one stakeholder group to control the project while ignoring the needs of other, less outspoken groups. Failure to include suitable “change management” activities in the project scope to guarantee stakeholders can transition from old to new ways of functioning.

Lack Of Team Management Skill

Failure to give proper training to the project team, in either, the technology being used, the processes the team will be employing, or the business domain in which the system will operate. The team lacks the subject matter expertise required to finish the project successfully. The lack of clarity and responsibilities lead to confusion, errors, and omissions. Choosing the first available person to fulfill a position rather than awaiting for the most suitable candidate is the most common error project manager does, as well as expecting team members to work full-time on operational jobs while also expecting them to fulfill project milestones, which in turn reduces their intrinsic motivation along the way. When the Project Manager fails to address team chemistry or being clear on non-performance by an individual team member; the project will fail eventually without further notice.

Focusing On Fancy Design Rather Than Providing A Practical Solution Has Become A Common Practice

Being tricked into adopting cutting-edge technology when it is unnecessary or inappropriate, such as wanting to put in the Rolls Royce version of a product when a Chevy will suffice. Failure to consider non-functional requirements when designing a product, system, or process results in an operationally unusable deliverable, as well as allowing a pet idea to become the chosen solution without considering whether other solutions would better meet the project’s overall goal. Attempting to address all problems with a specific tool, solely, because it is well understood and trendy, rather than because it is well suited to the project owner’s needs. Teams begin building individual components without first considering the overall architecture for how the project’s many components will be interrelated and fit into the overall project scope. That lack of architectural design competence will impede the origin of why that particular project had to be conducted, and then leads in duplication of effort, gaps, unexpected integration costs, and other inefficiencies.

Failure To Implement Quality As A Work Culture

Quality requirements are rarely stated, which allows different people to have varied expectations of what is produced and the standards that must be met. Quality is considered solely in terms of testing rather than a working culture, and the team perceives it as the Quality Assurance group’s responsibility rather than a shared one. Integration and testing of the project’s various components are postponed until all development activities are completed, rather than doing continual incremental audits and verification to identify and resolve issues early on. Schedule and budget became the driving forces, resulting in corners being cut and quality being compromised at every step along the way.

Lack Of Project Tracking And Management

Projects are tracked using large work items rather than smaller increments at a time. The project plan has been published, but there is little follow-up or tracking to allow issues to be identified and resolved immediately. These failures cause delays and other difficulties during the project time management. When presented to clients, managers, and stakeholders; project challenges are glossed over, and information that indicates that the project is experiencing difficulty is dismissed. Believing that just because someone was told something once, they will remember what they were requested to do and when they intended to do it owing to a failure to implement a system that assures people are reminded of impending activities and responsibilities.

Error of judgment and Decision-making problems

When making critical decisions, expert advice is, either, ignored or simply never been solicited. Key decisions are made by persons who lack the necessary subject matter expertise, and they are made without identifying or considering alternatives; most of the time, there is a lack of “situational awareness” that leads to ineffective decisions. Team members avoid making difficult decisions since some stakeholders may be unhappy with the outcome. Group decisions are made at the lowest common denominator rather than facilitating group decision-making toward the best potential outcome.

Successful projects are NOT the result of successful planning

Successful projects are the result of skillful execution

Despite new method developments and technology changes over time, project management has kept its core goal intact: to deliver successful projects in a clear and effective way.

The ambiguity of defining what really makes a project successful

While understanding the causes of project failure is critical, there is no clear foundation for distinguishing between success and failure in the absence of an agreed-upon notion of “success”. On the surface, it appears that defining success would be simple, but in reality, various people define success in different ways. One reason people have difficulty agreeing on a definition is because there are two interconnected dimensions in which project success or failure is judged

Project’s relative degree of success or failure may change over time.

A successful product born from a deeply troubled project

One notable example of the ambiguity of defining success and failure is the Sydney Opera House. According to the original 1957 project design, the project was supposed to cost $7 million and be completed in 5 years. The construction took 13 years and cost $110 million in total. By all accounts, the project was extremely problematic, and at the time, the media strongly criticized it for consistently missing targets and deadlines. Looking back, many years later, it is evident that the initiative produced something quite valuable. The Opera House is now a tourist attraction and an iconic symbol of Australia.

There is project management success by delivering in accordance with the agreed-upon project objectives, and there is product success, which is the amount of value the project’s deliverables provide when the project is completed. With this distinction in place, it is fair to say that the Sydney Opera house was a successful product born from a deeply troubled project.

Undoubtedly, reaching a consensus on the definition of success is not simple. Although most Project Managers disagree with any definition of success that includes value created, Project Sponsors do frequently consider projects success from that perspective. These are valid concerns, no doubt. The project manager has little direct control over a large number of the important choices that affect the value produced. The definition of success or failure should be from the customer’s perspective rather than from that of the person hired to manage the delivery of the project.

That concept defines the context in which one makes decisions and guides clients. Given the important nature of the issue, all organizations should be encouraged to consider it. If the organization’s concept of success is erroneous then the context in which decisions are made will be wrong, which can easily become the trigger for failure.

To deliver a successful project, it is vital to appraise the existing situation and comprehend the dynamics that drive all behaviours. With this comprehension, it is practical to approach project-based work with a greater probability of success, based on reality-based knowledge of how people operate in a certain environment. This information is applied when creating and carrying out action plans.


Traditional project management metrics have been useful to the project management community for many years. However, these criteria are frequently shortsighted in determining whether a project will eventually be successful or not in terms of its product’s real-world business viability.

To fully grasp this comprehensive definition of “project success,” we must develop the relevant measures and monitor them throughout the entire process, including one or more post-implementation reviews. Project manager should not consider just the requirements, money, and time of the project, but also the projected outcomes and benefits. Doing otherwise could easily jeopardize a project’s final purpose.

I am a writer in the field of leadership development, organizational performance as well as many other topics relevant to today’s challenging issues

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