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Global businesses invest billions in projects every year, but many programs still fail to successfully deliver change. If you are a project manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that you deliver business value. If you are failing to meet your aims, it’s time to act quickly and take the right action. Consider these common reasons for failure, and address the cause before you throw away any more money.

Unclear scope

An effective project must have a specific scope. Everyone working on the project must know exactly what it is that they are trying to do. Where there is ambiguity, there is opportunity for failure, because people end up trying to deliver different products. A relatively minor misinterpretation of scope can often lead to months of wasted effort. If your goal is not clear, then progress may be slow. Define the scope very clearly, and make sure that the sponsor signs off all project documents before starting any work.

Poor change control

Projects rely on a number of documents and processes. Where system change is part of the project, the team relies on detailed documents to outline the future state. These documents are vital, but if there is no change control, developers will end up working on different versions. This is disastrous. On a precision engineering project, a measurement difference of one millimeter could result in complete failure. Robust change control is essential on any project, as it makes sure that every member of the team works to the same details.

Lack of communication

It doesn’t matter if a project has a delivery window of two days or two years. Communication is vital at every stage of the process, to make sure that the right people support the change. Many project managers focus on delivery or technical details, and fail to make sure that all stakeholders know exactly what is happening. Successful projects feature extensive communication plans, which run from the beginning of the work until long after the delivery is complete.

Constantly changing priorities

All businesses must adapt quickly to change, but without a clear strategy, it is very difficult to successfully deliver projects. Many businesses start projects with a rush of enthusiasm, but the level of interest rapidly disappears when the next big priority comes along. Successful business change is complex and time-consuming to carry out. If senior managers keep changing priorities, then live projects are likely to fail because everybody’s attention will focus elsewhere. If you don’t have consistent senior management support, escalate the issue, and make sure your work still fits into the business road map.

Poor resource management

All projects need different resources, with varying degrees of skill and experience. It’s vital that you plan all the skills that you need from the beginning, and then review and refine them as you progress. Organisations sometimes start projects without accepting that there are only one or two people with key skills. By the time this becomes a problem, it’s often too late to recruit somebody new, or there just isn’t enough time to train another person. Leaders often believe that they can just keep piling on demand, without increasing supply, and this causes big problems for projects. As project manager, it’s your role to make sure this doesn’t happen.

The work isn’t actually a project

A project has a defined start and end date, a delivery plan, and a set of clear goals. Many businesses make the mistake of identifying a piece of work as a project, when it’s actually nothing more than a series of operational improvements. If work requires investment in new or existing systems, then a project is probably essential. Improvements to training or product awareness probably don’t need the structure of a project. Skilled people are scarce, so it’s really important that you only manage the right pieces of work as projects. Challenge senior managers whether you should manage the work, if what they ask you to do isn’t actually a project.

Bad project management

Project management is more than just following a process. The role requires excellent communication skills, strong commercial awareness, and the ability to lead diverse teams of people. Managers sometimes put people in charge of a project because they are subject matter experts, or sometimes because there simply isn’t anyone else to do it. Inexperienced project managers will miss obvious warning signs, and may lack the ability to make difficult decisions. A lot of companies make the mistake of putting the wrong people in charge of a project, and this is one of the most common reasons for failure. Make sure you have the skill and experience to take on the role before you commit to the work.

In order to stop project failure, the first step is to work out why things are going wrong. It isn’t easy to admit that your project is in trouble, but if you don’t look for the cause, you can’t get things back on track. If you recognise any of the symptoms in this article, start taking corrective action before it’s too late.

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