Why many projects fail

As a certified prince of Persia, having the “Six Sigma” under the black belt and sitting on a throne of Pmbook yet many seemingly easy projects fail. Why are so many projects failing? Not exhausted but the three main reasons why projects fail are:

  • Lack of understanding of the magical pyramid of time, cost, and scope
  • Lack of real world experience, expertise comes from books
  • Neglecting communication and opposing forces


Lack of understanding of the magical pyramid of time, cost, and scope

Projects by definition have a beginning and an end (time); almost always have a limited budget (cost/ resources) and an almost intangible expected goal, quality (scope). The challenge is to deliver the highest quality in the shortest time for the lowest cost. It is safe to say that the majority of the projects fail on these three corners (time, cost and scope).

On the first corner, the expected, quality, features, results or outcome can not be visualized or expressed in a clear and understandable way hence cause room for misinterpretation. Lack of imagination, vision and communication is the main challenge on this corner (scope).

Underfinanced and over allocated resources compromise the given time, the scope or both of the projects on the second corner (cost). No project should be started without a secured cash flow unless you have a heavy hitting strategist on board.

On the third corner (time), the required time is most often over or underestimated. Often the calculated or estimated amount of time needed for a project is based on ideal norms, theories but in reality it’s merely guess work. It would be ok to stretch the time when it is backed up with experience, honesty, and focus but then again, no matter what, giant pumpkins do not grow in one week.


Project manager’s expertise comes from books but experience

Job seekers or employees in large corporations invest lots of their time and money in education to get a formal (PM) project management certificate. A PM certificate meanwhile is believed by some as a proof of Project Management skills.

Making the effort to be certified certainly demonstrates that the individual is diligent, memorizes some theories and methodologies, works through tasks and pass the tests but where does the real skill and experience come from? If a PM certificate is required to be entrusted with a project, what is a degree in business, management or engineering worth then?

Paper dragons or tigers should not despair when they lack experience and fail in their projects; failing is a crucial part of the learning process and by doing so the required experience is gained to be successful in the upcoming projects, the only question remains, failing on whose expenses?

To get hands on in a small scale, a product could be developed, or a small business could be established by doing so all the aspects of the magical pyramid will reveal itself. Every single time that a small project is completed, whether it was a failure or success, leads to needed experience.

Ideally, only the experienced and standing project manager should undergo the institutional certification process to display their expertise and experience if these certificates should mean something.  Remember, to fail is the substantial fundament of success and nothing substitutes experience.


Neglecting communication and opposing forces

Relaying solemnly on PMI, Prince2, Six Sigma methodologies, statistics, facts and figures, mechanics and neglecting the subtle information which are constantly streamed by the people who are involved in the ongoing projects will certainly not grant the success of a project.

Hard facts and reflective data are important, but one should remember to ask the questions who, what time and how are the information gathered, analyzed, interpreted and visualized. The gathered and extracted information is little of use when they are compromised in the first place by being biased, choosing the wrong information, or applying the wrong methods.

The project is simply too big, too complex or too bumpy. Being experienced in managing technical projects is one thing, playing politics/strategy on a large scale is another. The bigger the projects are, the bigger the odds and opposing forces. Sometimes applying command and control might bring the expected results but may increase the opposing forces and lead to blur the vision of the bigger picture.

Communicating constantly to all the project participants the message of win/ win when the project is accomplished is quite challenging but often the only way to succeed, for this, however, not a project or program manager but a strategist as communicator and connector who scrambles the methodologies for the sake of success is required.

Infinite variables have an impact on the outcome of projects but in the end everything comes down to you! Are you detail oriented executor or visionary communicator, a strategist or an operator?

In all cases, one must master the unit before the absolute, for success know thyself!



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