10 Warning Signs of Project Failure

Unless you are in a mature industry such as banking or insurance, where information is the life-blood of what you do, chances are you will be familiar with at least some of these 10 project management failings put together by Robert Francis Group (RFG)analyst Mimi Ho.

“One, they’re right on the button and two, if you take a look at the large majority of them, it all has to do with project planning and early stages of analysis that companies like to jump over,” said Jeff Monteforte, owner of Exential, an independent project management consultancy in Cleveland.

In other words, when IT projects fail it rarely is a result of the technology. At its core, project management is all about people.

“Even in some of our clients, some of them are doing very well … and others are just starting where they don’t even have executive support and they get the executives saying, ‘Just start the project, I don’t care what you do’,” said Ms. Ho. “And projects fail … and they’re like, ‘It’s IT’s fault.'”

The top three problems Monteforte, a 20-year veteran of the project management business, encounters most often are: 1) lack of executive support; 2) changes to project scope and the lack of change management, and; 3) failure to establish user expectations, which leads all too often to unrealistic deadlines.

Monteforte says the top three project killers he sees are: 1) lack of executive support; 2) lack of pre-project planning, and; 3) insufficient people (not monetary) resources allocated to get the project done.

Ms. Ho also sees the same problems — especially lack of executive support — as Monteforte, but adds poorly defined project requirements to his lists.

“You need to speak with stakeholders directly because the bill changes or they visualize the project being a certain way but when it’s communicated the project could be different,” says Ms. Ho.

According to RFG and Ms. Ho, what follows, in no particular order, are the 10 most common pitfalls to successful project completion:

Undefined or poorly defined project requirements. Project managers should collaborate directly with key project stakeholders to define specific detailed project requirements and deliverables. Defining
specific project requirements is necessary to maintain alignment of project tasks to desired business outputs, as well as to ensure that projects have clear and specific project objectives established.

While this step may seem obvious, many companies will skip this stage and go right to solutions to jump start a project. Business and/or IT executives assume the requirements (such as controls, dashboards, data, dependencies, functionality, integration, metrics, outputs, and workflow) are met without performing any confirming analysis.

These projects tend to fail and the companies usually encounter over spending, project restarts, rework, and/or unmet expectations.

Lack of project planning. Once the requirements are known, then conducting thorough, upfront project scope planning is an essential next step to help project managers and stakeholders accurately and clearly define project scope.

It is important for people to understand that there is more than one way to achieve the requirements and that scope and cost vary by approach. Project scope management is therefore necessary to develop reasonable project estimates, enhance the management of customer and stakeholder expectations, and mitigate project risks such as cost overruns and schedule delays.

Project managers should establish and standardize a scope management process to develop concise project scope statements and credible budget and schedule estimates.

Lack of or poorly developed budget forecast. Thorough research and preparation is necessary to develop a reasonable budget estimate. Many companies will skip this step or just do a very rudimentary estimate due to the amount of work needed to complete the task.

Some companies that do not maintain internal archives of project costs turn to external consultancies to acquire external spending/budget information on companies that have completed similar projects in a similar market.

Using the estimated budget, project managers should collaborate with stakeholders to help further refine the project scope and final deliverables. Project managers should use their initial budget to base actual spending plans as well as to proactively track spending and respond quickly to potential issues to prevent shortfalls in the budget.

Lack of stakeholder involvement. Project managers should ensure that primary project stakeholders are involved with the project from the beginning and throughout the entire project. This is crucial to ensure that visions are properly communicated, defined, and verified.

It is very common for project efforts to be delegated to staff that do not have sufficient knowledge or understanding of the desired effort. As a result, projects are defined incorrectly and the projects delivered do not meet the expectations of key stakeholders.

Lack of executive support. An IT project can be highly political and may end up involving an excessive number of unnecessary or incorrect participants. IT executives should seek ongoing senior management endorsement and enforcement of the planning process to keep the effort on track and to minimize pushback from line of business (LOB) managers.