The start of a project can be a very exciting phase filled with optimism, you have your project laid out in front of you– you’ve probably got some funding and everyone is talking about how well it’s going to go and how much better life will be once’ you’ve delivered – however on the flip side it can also be a time where if you fail to set off on the right foot your project can be doomed from the start.

Project Management viewed as a process has a series of inputs, activities and outputs that are required – miss them and you’ll suffer. While an increasing number of companies understand the importance of this project management discipline this all too often at odds with organizations utilizing it effectively.

The rise and rise of project failure

What’s the result of getting things wrong? Clearly the worst that can happen is that your project fails. In terms of project failure rates there is some pretty damning evidence if you look into the statistics.

50% of survey respondents to a KPMG survey found results did not achieve the intended project results (

70% of organizations have suffered at least one project fail in last 12 months (

17% of IT projects go so badly wrong that they threaten the very existence of the company (

Only 40% of projects met schedule, budget and quality goals (IBM Change Management Survey of 1500 execs) (

Pretty damning stuff eh?

But what are the steps that you need to think about in terms of steering your project to success. Firstly it’s worth while considering those early steps that are a must.

  1. Nail down your scope
  2. Ensure your project has a senior sponsor and meets your company strategy
  3. Ensure your resource needs are accurate and met by the business
  4. Be clear in your objectives and how you’ll measure success
  5. Understand your business case inside out
  6. Review previous projects lessons learned
  7. Recognize that project management is a process – don’t’ skip parts and use the right project tools & templates.
  8. Understand the importance of accurate planning
  9. Listen to your customer
  10. Have a brilliant communications plan

Why do projects fail?

Given that a large number of projects fail to deliver it’s probably worth digging into the root causes. Gartners recent survey on large IT projects ($1M + Budget) the key areas to be:

1/ Budget overrun (24%)

2/ Schedule issues (categorized as substantially late (28%)

3/ Functionality/Scope issues (22%)

4/ Poor Quality (11%)

While this is a snapshot of one industry the themes are common.   Perhaps the key elements can be boiled down to:

1/ Do you have clear scope and objectives and have an way of measuring your success (when your done) that your customer agrees with.

2/ Do you have a robust plan that accurately articulates the steps required?

3/ Do you have sufficient resources to deliver your plan

4/ Are you on top of managing risk.

Managing projects isn’t all about doom and gloom – projects can succeed – it’s worth looking at the inverse to failure and finding out why projects succeed and then benchmarking. Projects are like a recipe with different constituent parts (methodology, deliverable, organizational culture, skills & experience etc) and each one of these can influence projects to varying degrees. Looking at those elements that improve your chance of success and being strict about their incorporation and approach is of course a must (planning, resource, scope etc).

Any attempt to improve these core steps will benefit. For further insight organizations should review their metrics and success criteria – constant feedback should provide early insight on project failures allowing corrective action to be developed and implemented.


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