7 Lessons to Learn from a Failed Project

Regardless of the situation, things don’t always go as planned; this is an age-old adage. Expected outcomes may not be met—perhaps because of internal oversights or external factors.

Project failures can include cost overruns, substandard output quality, or missing important delivery dates caused by scope creep, poor estimates, unrealistic product goals, or objectives among many other reasons.

Failure can be challenging to deal with. It can affect team morale and client trust. As a project manager, it’s your responsibility to help your team work past project failures and, hopefully, come out of them even stronger than before.

7 Lessons From Failed Projects

Determine What Worked

A project can fail for a variety of reasons, however, this does not mean that every aspect of the project must be changed. On the contrary, a failed project can also show which aspects did work as planned. Knowing which areas were a success will allow you determine the difference between those areas and the parts of the project that did not work so that adjustments can be made next time around.

Communication is Vital

Communicating with other team members when working on a project can be vital to its success. A lack of communication can lead to unwanted delays and an assortment of other problems. It is for this reason that the value of communication should be emphasized right from the start of any project.

Seek out process improvements

A project failure offers a great opportunity to evaluate and improve workflow and project life cycle processes. For example, if a project failed because of a misalignment between client expectations and the team output, then there is a need for a more extensive pre-production meeting.

A project’s failure is also a good time to evaluate the role your systems played in the outcome. The final results may have been impacted by the fact that you’ve outgrown the capabilities of your project management software.

Identifying the parts of your system that can be fortified will allow your team to avoid making the same mistakes in future projects.

Read More: Take a look at our recommendations for Top Project Management Software.

Prepare better for contingencies

While there are many things you can control, it’s just as important to consider things you can’t. To deal with these, contingency plans have to be in place to help you mitigate and manage their effects.

For example, if operations were delayed due to a problem with the office internet, consider coordinating with the IT team to set up backups in case this happens again. At the same time, evaluate if there’s a way to keep offline backups of important builds or files. This way, your team can continue functioning in case it happens again.

If your project failed due to an external event, take this opportunity to evaluate what you can do in the future to protect your project from events of a similar nature.

Find areas for growth and innovation

Skills and proficiencies can also be reasons why projects fail. This isn’t just limited to the technical skills of a project team. Soft and project management skills can also cause a team to miss its goals.

Project failure can reveal a team’s weaknesses and areas of growth. Use this information to identify what training is needed and if there are mentorship and shadowing programs that need to be explored.

Leaning into this knowledge would help you and your team develop the necessary proficiencies to help address the same situations better in the future in case they happen again.

Set more realistic goals

When a project fails, stop and think about how realistic your goals and objectives were in the first place. Were there things your team didn’t consider when committing to the goals? Was additional padding to the estimates necessary? Were there disclaimers that should have been communicated?

Overpromising can help you get new clients. However, if it’s not aligned with what your team can realistically produce, it can guarantee failure from the get-go. Under-promising and aiming to overdeliver is a more advantageous position to set your team up for success.

Reassess the effectiveness of your client communication

Without proper handling, one project failure can result in a ruined reputation. Clients will naturally feel disappointed, and there’s a chance for it to put a strain on your relationship. As a project manager, it’s necessary to mitigate these effects as much as possible.

At times like these, a sense of urgency, transparency, and sincerity can do wonders in retaining client trust. Taking accountability and responsibility to mitigate the project failure’s effects on your client’s business will be tricky. But, it’s an effort they will surely appreciate.

Tips to Maximize Learning Opportunities From Failed Projects

Learning from failure requires a good mindset and intentional action. Here’s how you and your team can use a project failure as an opportunity for growth.

Take accountability

The easiest game to play when things go awry is the blame game. Instead of taking responsibility, it’s easy to point fingers toward who is at fault. But, this practice will prevent you from learning from your mistakes and recognizing improvement points.

Identify the factors that affected the project’s outcome, and be honest about what you could and couldn’t do. There are things you and your team could have done better—recognize that. The more you take responsibility, the more you’ll see how capable you are of growth in the future.

Forgive and collaborate

Individual shortcomings and oversight may be part of the reason why projects fail. While this is important, the purpose shouldn’t be to criticize and shun certain members mindlessly. Instead, it’s so the team can work together to support each other.

People make mistakes, and everyone has room for growth. Instead of turning this into something to fight about, use it as an opportunity to collaborate and be more united as a team.

Don’t take failure personally

Failure can be hard to accept. However, it’s important to remember that even the best project teams have and can fail. The worst thing you can do is to use it to belittle your abilities individually or as a team.

Find the balance between taking accountability and not allowing failure to define you. Embrace a growth mindset. Despite your shortcomings now, you can do better in the future.

Take steps to improve

There are several lessons to be learned from failure. However, you can only make the most out of them if you take concrete steps to ensure your improvement.

Improvement isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing cycle of reexamining every aspect of the project management discipline. So, use every failure as an opportunity to fortify your processes. Reexamine your assumptions, and create additional checks and balances. By continuously working to improve all of these areas, mistakes will be less and less likely to happen in future projects. And you’ll be taking valuable steps to set your team up for success in the long run.

 


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Hannah Donato

Hannah Donato is a SaaS freelance writer for project management and productivity. Her works help SaaS brands become more relatable with actionable tips and relevant stories. Currently, she’s also an events manager and brand coordinator for a game development company in the Philippines, with four years of experience as a producer for games on multiple platforms.