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There are many reasons for project failure. Sometimes projects fail spectacularly but there is usually a way to rebound, even if it is painful.
There are many reasons projects can fail. But, they all boil down to two things (sometimes both).
There was a risk that no-one recognized and/or
When there was a problem, we didn’t respond quickly enough
Instead of focusing on a list containing common reasons for project failure, which can be found all over the project management industry, I want to look at the larger picture to address the root cause of project (and often project management) failure.
It is best to recognize the risk and avoid it, but you can still have a major issue on a project if you act quickly.
How to Avoid and Survive a Catastrophic Project Failed
This leads us to two things that we can do to prevent and survive project disasters.
First, recognize the risks and plan accordingly.
1. How to Avoid Project Failure
Project management is all about risk management. It is so critical that project management failures often result from failure to manage risks. Three important components of risk management are:
What are the chances of it happening? How bad would it make things worse? What is the impact and probability?
Prepare contingency and mitigation plans for any risks that could cause damage to your project. You can keep track of everything you have done by creating risk registers.
Identify the Risks
First, identify your risks. If you do this well, it can help you avoid a lot of failed projects. It’s not easy to spot all the risks, but if you look at the project carefully, you can usually identify the most dangerous ones.
My background is in software development. I have worked in both product and IT development. Software projects are fragile and complex. They don’t have the same inspections and failsafes as construction or medical device manufacturing.
Each of the four dials should be a goal in your project.
Those are your starting points if you don’t know them. I find that two of the four dials will move a lot, but the more you know about where you are going, the easier it will become to spot obstacles. You can reduce risk by understanding which dial is highest priority and making small trade-offs.
It is easy to get lost in the schedule dial and overlook risks that could affect other dials. But they are all connected and important to identify. Buggy products are not the best option for meeting your schedule goals. Even if you send them out, fix-it releases will push the schedule for a satisfactory product further than it would have been.
Beyond the 4 Dials
You have three aspects to balance your project, in addition to the four dials:
product, which is usually covered with the dials
There are two types of process risks: an inadequacy in a process that doesn’t fit the needs of your project or a lack of a process that is critical to what your team does. It is easy to reduce process risks by fixing or creating the process.
People are often overlooked, but your team and those they interact with will make the difference between success or failure. It will be difficult to get the results you need from uninterested stakeholders. Unhappy, stressed or overworked team members won’t get the job done. You can identify some of the potential issues in people publicly. Others you may prefer to address privately. But don’t ignore them.
Assess the risks you’ve identified