Most projects fail. Why? And what can you do about it?
Gartner Group has reported that an estimated 75% of all Enterprise Resource Programmes fail. For normal IT projects, the figure is over 50%. And these may well be underestimates, since most organisations aren’t calling up their press function to send out press releases letting the world know about the latest project fiasco. So what’s the reason? And is there anything that can be done? Let’s start by looking at three ways in which projects are set up to fail from the outset.
1. Project management is seen as something any manager can do
One of the leading reasons for project failure is the continuing delusion in both the public and private sector, that running a project is something that a manager can do in the time left over from their day job. This isn’t fair on the manager involved, nor is it fair on those trying to deliver the project.
Aside from the fact that the manager doesn’t really see the project as part of their mainstream work and probably resents the extra burden, project management requires a completely different skillset from “business as usual” (BAU) management.
2. The skills to manage a project are missing
Project management is nothing like day to day management. Workplaces have become more casual and more consensual with fewer job titles, and less prescription around exact job scope and roles. Project management isn’t like this; people have to be held to account, according to set schedules and information is collected daily or weekly to track what has been achieved, compared to the plan for the week.
The project manager has to have a fixation with the work days, elapsed days, budget spend and milestones achieved. They need to be on top of the detail as well as driving the team to a goal that may be several years ahead.
They need to know everything about the project, including showstoppers and drop-dead dates, then be able to summarise the business benefits on one sheet of A4 for senior executives. It’s not a job for the fainthearted and top project managers are very well rewarded by companies that understand their value.
3. Lack of project team building leads to poor performance
A bunch of people get together to deliver a project. Most of them don’t usually work with each other and some of them, or possibly all of them, may be contractors who’ve never met before. Instead of the certainty about grades, rankings and responsibilities that are part of the BAU world, you have people who may work permanently on projects.
But while a BAU team gets team building events and management time dedicated to getting them working well together, it’s a rare project team that gets so much as a project away-day to build team relationships. Yet the project team needs this input far more so, because it’s likely to be a more disparate group recruited for specific specialist skills.
Tellingly, the oil majors and others who have better track records on projects, are far more likely to spend money in this way, because they have higher expectations. They want project teams to work effectively from the outset. Without this kind of investment, each member of the team works in a vacuum. They don’t ask for help when they need it because they don’t know who to ask and don’t feel comfortable admitting they don’t know how to do something - and this can lead to delays building up.
In contrast, where people feel they know each other, they communicate more freely and problems are identified and solved more rapidly.
There’s a lot more to say on why projects fail - look out for another post shortly, on this critical and under-discussed topic.