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How to Avoid Project Management Failures

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/20/2011

Are there specific qualities of projects, managers or teams that cause a project to fail? Top project management failures can be blamed on a number of reasons no matter what the methodology utilized. Jean Scheid discusses identifying failure causes and learning from mistakes.

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    Why Do Projects Fail?

    60 Hula Hoops by Samantha Quigley Wikimedia Commons Top project management experts may say the human element is the cause of most failures, but that’s not always the case. Often a wrong methodology is chosen or the methodology is utilized incorrectly.

    Communication may be weak or team structure poor when a project fails. The lack of stakeholder involvement or the changing of project personnel midstream may be to blame. Rushed timelines without data analysis produce faulty, incomplete or incorrect outcomes in some projects.

    If you’re the manager, is it possible to avoid project management failures by identifying known warning signs?

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    Identifying Failure Causes

    Some of these top causes of failure are easily corrected or can be identified before a project begins:

    • Removing Key Personnel – When an element of a project is totally flawed, taking key personnel out of the game and replacing them is not recommended. In the 1991 book, Getting to Yes: Negotiation Agreement Without Giving In by Fisher, Ury and Patton, they say, “Fix the problem, not the blame." Try and avoid this and think about the time it will take to retrain new teams or individuals. Even if the fault can be identified as specifically caused by key personnel on the project, it’s best to find out what went wrong and deal with fixing the problem with the people you have.
    • Rapid Implementation – Your project management style can help you determine if you have rapid implementation problems. If you are more worried about the timeline and push all your projects through too quickly, chances are you will have flaws and failures. Make the attempt to improve how you manage and learn to utilize good quality management plans.
    • No Backup Plan – Managers should expect project problems. You may not be able to identify the problem before it happens but having no change control process or risk management plan is a sure way for a project to fail. Comprise good backup plans and utilize them when problems arise.
    • Skipping the Feasibility Stage – Feasibility studies are necessary to determine if a project is even feasible or profitable. This is especially true for projects where some elements are vague or unproven. If a project such as this falls in your lap, you can’t skip the feasibility study stage.
    • Learning From Mistakes – If your attitude is always, “Remember when we tried that! We’re never doing that again," you aren’t learning from your mistakes. It’s easy to run from a failed project but think about how much you can learn if you take the time to figure out why it failed in the first place.
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    People and Change Failures

    Change by Felix Burton Wikimedia Commons Project management failures include resistance to change and human element factors. Here are some of the most common:

    • No Change Management – Change is inevitable and you need to plan for and communicate why as clearly as you can with your staff. Let them know upfront that changes will occur and your plans on dealing with change. Change management is a project management methodology for a reason. The change skills you practice are key in preventing dissension and resistance to change.
    • Project Manager Failures – Consider how you manage projects. Do you consistently have unhappy, unorganized, and unproductive teams? If this is you, invest in skills by seeking help from mentors or online project management certifications or seminars. A project with an ineffective leader is sure to fail.
    • No Communication – Every project needs to have a good communication plan in order for it to succeed. If your projects constantly fail consider how well teams, key personnel, and stakeholders are communicating. Determine a good communication plan for every project before it starts
    • Not Allowing Room for Trade-Offs – If an element must suffer in order for a project to be successful, are you willing to allow for trade-offs? You might have to sacrifice a method or task in order to stay within a budget or deadline. This doesn’t mean you should turn in a poor project; it means you should allow for trade-offs and learn how to utilize them advantageously.
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    Methodology Failures

    Using the wrong methodology or not spending enough time understanding how the methodology will work within your project can cause failures as well. If you want to use agile management do you really understand how it works? Learn and choose your methodologies wisely based on types of projects. Don’t implement an untried methodology if you’ve never used it before. If you want to try a new process, test it on a completed project before using it in real time.

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    Expect Some Failures

    Every manager should expect some failures because they will come. The best way to identify project management failures is to realize this first and have action plans in place. Ask yourself what if this happens or that process goes awry and create ways to deal with your what ifs. You may not be able to avoid project failures, but you can raise the chance of success if you plan ahead for failures.

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