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Four Ways to Avoid Project Management Failures

written by: Rupen Sharma, PMP • edited by: Ronda Bowen • updated: 5/30/2013

The initial cost estimate for EuroDisney was slightly over $2 billion. It took twice that amount on completion. Let’s look at some project management best practices, which will help you avoid such project management failures.

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    Cost and Time

    As a Project Manager, your project’s success can be gauged by two key parameters: Cost and Time. Delivered on-time and within budget, the project will be remembered for its success. Otherwise, even though the project might have given value, it’ll still be deemed as a failure. For example, the Canary Wharf project in London had cost overruns of over 80 percent. In turn, the developers – the Reichman Brothers – filed for bankruptcy.

    Let’s avoid such project management failures by following these key project management best practices:

    • Plan Comprehensively
    • Watch the Milestones
    • Manage Scope Creep
    • Ensure Regular Audits
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    Plan Comprehensively

    Planning involves a litany of activities that are triggered from the Project Charter. In a simplistic sense, these activities can be scope identification, realistic scope identification and cost estimation, and the creation of a schedule, which then must be acceptable to all stakeholders. The plan needs to account for the most efficient path toward meeting the project goals. Before you perform scheduling, ensure you construct a precedence diagram that clearly shows the critical path.

    Project Management Best Practice: Plan, re-plan, get feedback from stakeholders, and then re-plan! Use planning tools, such as Precedence Diagrams and Critical Path Analysis.

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    Watch the Milestones

    During project execution, milestones help you see how far off-track your project is. Having milestones too far apart can take you through a kind of black box till you reach the milestone. For example, if the milestones mentioned in the project schedule are after every six weeks, it will not give you enough time to react for missed milestones.

    Project Management Best Practice: Have about two to four weeks between milestones, but no more. It’ll help you react faster to a pending project management failure.

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    Manage Scope Creep

    Scope creep is an inevitable reality in most projects and usually it leads to cost overruns and delivery delays. For example, during the 90s, Microsoft Windows 95 was launched. It was applauded by many for its advanced capabilities, such as multitasking. At the time, Apple Computers was also developing a competing OS called Copland. This new OS was driven to failure by additional feature support requirements provided by stakeholders. Ultimately, this led to an OS that Apple could not develop at the time. Copland died an early death. Apple went and purchased the OS technology by acquiring NeXT. This is a classic example of scope creep.

    Project Management Best Practice: Manage scope creep by not committing when you are not certain. Or maybe, in the example above, it seems like not enough effort was expended for collecting requirements and defining project goals.

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    Ensure Regular Audits

    Meeting stakeholders regularly is essential in most projects. As a matter of fact, if you follow Agile methodologies, then you have no choice! Project audits are an effective manner to assess the project. During an audit, key measurements, such as earned value analysis and missed milestones, are used.

    Project Management Best Practice: Audits must always focus on helping the project meet its goals.

    Before I end this article, ensure your project risks are identified and responded to appropriately. Negative risks and a lack of an effective response strategy causes project management failures. Use a Risk Breakdown Structure to identify risks and then respond to them effectively. Project management failures are usually caused through unidentified negative risks or identified negative risks that weren't mitigated.