Why projects fail and how to avoid it

Toodday
7 min readNov 27, 2020

Having a project to work on is often associated with being a father / mother and having a baby to care for, nurture and watch grow. Many people start projects with the mindset that they grow up to be responsible, self-sustaining adults, yet few people reach this point, which begs the question. Why do projects fail?

There are not very favorable reports regarding the number of projects that fail, an example of these are IT projects, where about 84% never have a satisfactory outcome.

https://www.opendoorerp.com/the-standish-group-report-83-9-of-it-projects-partially-or-completely-fail/

For all other projects, personal, business or governmental, the Figures are not precise, however it can be estimated that 2 out of every 3 projects that start fail at some stage of the project development cycle.

There is no simple answer or a magic key that allows us to guarantee the success of a project, since the variables that affect each project are different, however there are rules or assumptions that we can follow to increase the probability of success of a project.

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1.- Any project requires a technical or human skill to be able to achieve its objective, basically it is to clearly understand what is the value method that is going to be used to obtain a certain result.

The first problem you have when you start a project is that the focus is on being able to obtain the technical or human resources to draw the project roadmap, leaving aside the most important of the project’s start.

Why are we doing the project ?, and in what way these resources will be necessary to achieve this objective.

In terms of project management, this is called definition of scope, where the scope has to be clear regarding the value that will be generated with the project and never lose sight of this point of value, since all the resources and project efforts will aim at this goal.

If it is lost, there is a risk that the project will navigate in unfamiliar waters and failure is more likely.

2.- Given that the execution of projects dates back thousands of years, the learning regarding the projects as we know them today has progressed rapidly, and one of the main lessons learned is the monitoring of the short-term objectives of each project.

Previously, a project was started and its conclusion was reviewed, to determine if it had been a success or a failure.

Nowadays, within the planning phase, MEASURABLE metrics, milestones and monitoring processes must be established to determine if the project is ongoing or deviating.

Part of this is born with the implementation of agile methodologies, however, regardless of the chosen methodology, constant reviews of the project’s key indicators (KPIS) are necessary to identify in time a possible deviation or if the project is “in good health” . https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indicador_clave_de_rendimiento

3.- At this point we already know the value that the project will generate, what will be the indicators that will keep us constantly informed regarding whether we are heading towards a successful project or an imminent failure.

It is logical to think that we will have to plan scenarios that are not favorable within the planning framework.

This is known as ambiguous milestones, that is, for example time, cost or human resources are not presented in a state within what we are expecting.

In such cases, we must have possible solutions or “cards up our sleeves” for each indicator in order to solve problems that may arise.

This type of vision towards the future is important, because 99.9% of people plan their project in an excel sheet with pure profit, but it is also important to think that not everything will go well and that it can be done in those cases.

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4.- Having a methodology to carry out a project is key, in the previous three points we have described steps that have to be carried out, however these must be carried out in an ideal way regardless of the methodology used.

There are a large number of processes or best practices for each project, be it waterfall, agile or combinations of both, it is important that at the beginning of the project “rules of the game” are generated in order to know in advance how the project is going to develop .

These rules of the game may be attached strictly to good practice or the executors of the project management processes can take different approaches to fit each project.

The key is that once these rules have been established they must be followed throughout the entire project. During execution, if a serious flaw in said definition is detected, it can be corrected, but this should be avoided unless necessary.

5.- Within the planning of the methodology, a part that is commonly forgotten to explain clearly is the means of communication for the project.

The means of internal communication are important, but it is key to represent how the means of communication will be with the client or the person responsible for validating that the project is released.

The key to this communication is that it be established with the intention of keeping the client constantly involved in the development of the project, not only at the beginning and at the end.

At this point we can assume that we already have milestones within the project that are relevant to its success, at these points the customer has to be involved in order to detect failures in requirements, poorly implemented functionalities or even scope changes.

The client has to be in constant communication with the project leader, or even sometimes with key elements of the execution team.

Communication between the (whole) team and the client is an essential part of the success of the project, if there is a distance between the parts in the project cycle, the probability that by reaching the end from the team’s point of view, the The result differs between what the project team did and what the client expected. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/project-communication-management-five-steps-5115

6.- In the execution of the project, we will now focus on the people or even the person who is carrying out the project.

Depending on the project, authority, responsibility or access to information can be given to each element of the team, however there are certain elements that should never change.

Since the project team must be motivated at the project scope level so that their performance and understanding is optimal.

Of course there are other types of elements that have to be taken care of, such as salary, working conditions, etc. However, we take for granted that these conditions are met and that is not enough for the team element to contribute to the success of the project, that is why point 1 of this list becomes relevant, it is important that each team element has Of course, why their work is relevant in the value that will be obtained at the end of the project cycle, because there is no work that is better done than work that has meaning, value and a useful purpose for other people. https://uv-mdap.com/programa-desarrollado/bloque-x-habilidades-directivas/motivacion-del-project-manager/

7.- Last but not least is the consideration of resources within the project.

We touch on this topic because by this point we already know the scope of value, we know how we are going to measure it, we have contingency plans in case we deviate from the initial plan, we have established a methodology for the execution of said project, the channels and frequency communication are clear and we have a motivated team to start.

Now what we have to think about carefully is what do we need so that the project can be carried out? This is where we analyze what the cost is and how we are going to solve it, how much time is and if it is enough, if you have the technical force or you have to obtain it.

At this point, every corner of the process is thought about so that no resource escapes us.

It is common to think that the only resource that matters is the economic one, and this could not be further from reality, there are projects that have a very strong investment behind and that ultimately fail because they do not consider all the resources that may be required.

The person leading the project has to do this process carefully and ensure as much as possible that all resources are broken down and have to start or there is a plan on how to obtain them.

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The previous points are only the beginning of what a successful project can be, however it does not take into account many factors that can irreparably affect a project, however what is a reality is that if people take the time and they pause to be able to plan, think and write each of these seven points, the chances of failure of a project are decreased dramatically.

At this point we can affirm that projects fail from the moment we fail to plan them and we can avoid this by doing a process of analysis and preparation before giving the Kick Off.

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Toodday

I strongly believe that project management is key in life as it is in business. It help us achieve our goals and maintain a balanced life.