As a temporary endeavor, a project’s success can be elusive and a real challenge. Unlike a routine operational activity that is performed regularly under the same conditions, every project is unique and is usually done the first time. Hence, the more complex a project is, the more challenging it is to manage, control and deliver successfully. It is common for such projects to have issues and problems. Project managers expect those and usually prepare for them by anticipating problems before they arise. They manage risks and opportunities, and prepare or build contingencies.
However, there are pervasive things that when not prepared for or addressed immediately can ultimately stop a project in its tracks. It can be one lethal factor or a series of conditions that lead to one devastating blow and render the project dead without hope of getting rescued. Six experts were asked to help identify the number one project killer based on their comprehensive and authoritative knowledge, skills and experience. Listed below are their answers and some helpful advice. The original article can be found here.
For Elizabeth Harrin, Director of the OTOBOS Group and creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management blog, the biggest thing that kills a project is poor communication. Elizabeth explained that poor communication affects everything that will ensure a project’s success. It obscures the project’s real goals, makes uncertain what success would look like, confuses people and brings morale down, and even delays action to manage risks. Elizabeth added that good communication is possible when team members trust each other. Having the right tool also helps to facilitate communication, whether using technology-mediated medium or having the soft skills that give confidence and ability to carry on difficult conversations.
Best-selling author and public speaker Scott Berkun shared that the leading reason why projects get off-track is its lack of clarity. Without people, there can be no projects. People are the ones that get tasks done, milestones achieved, and projects delivered. Their unified effort towards the same goal brings a project to completion. However, when these people do not have the same understanding of what the project’s goals are, what roles and responsibilities they have to take, how to or why they need to help one another to complete tasks and overcome obstacles, friction develops. This friction literally makes it impossible for the project to move forward, and so it is delayed, deviates and dies.
Peter Taylor, renowned PMO leader, author and speaker, believed that a lack of expectation management in combination with a rush to action is the biggest thing that derails a project. According to him, in the early parts of a project, representatives and stakeholders come to learn about each other and understand what the project aims to deliver. At the start, no one person has the big, complete picture, and everything can be subject to personal interpretation. Without the proper management of expectations, people may be going forward at different paths, with different goals in mind, rushing around in trivial, irrelevant activities, and getting shocked at the end results, being very much different from what they have in mind.
For Johanna Rothman, the primary silent killer of projects is multitasking. The Pragmatic Manager explained that when people try to do multiple tasks simultaneously, it is very easy to lose focus on the thing that they are working on. When they lose focus, defects are created. In today’s work environment, people feel they are always trying to catch up, running around, trying to be in all places at the same time. Unfortunately, someone who needs to be working on a particular task or who has the essential information to help another clear a backlog almost always will be somewhere else working on another task, trying to catch up. Johanna added that projects have a fighting chance only when all the right people are assigned to it, and working only on the task needed.
There is no argument that scope creep is considered by many experts as the one thing that can fatally affect any project. Thomas Cagley, process improvement consultant and SPaMCAST blogger, identified uncontrolled scope creep and churn as mainly responsible for killing a project. He stated that changes happen and are expected to happen. However, as changes are added to the requirements or backlog, they still need to be prioritized based on value to the project. Without evaluation of the value and impact of this change to other components and to the main purpose of the project, chronic scope creep will surely derail the project from its path.
Steven Baker, PMP, an oil and gas project management specialist, stated that not properly assigning roles and responsibilities for each and every project team member is a sure way to kill a project. When people involved are unclear of their and others’ role, they begin to assume. They assume that someone else is taking care of an important detail, and in the end, only to find out that no one took care of it. Steven advises that it is essential to define roles and responsibilities and not change it, so that there is accountability for the delivery of the project.
The Right Management and Tools
To avoid these fatal flaws, it is important for project leaders to take serious planning and consideration of the management of their communications, resources, stakeholders, requirements and task assignments. Having the right PM tool like Smartsheet is equally important. It is an online project management and collaboration software that allows easy communication, centralized repository of project documents, task, resource and scheduling management in a familiar spreadsheet-like interface. It is a comprehensive application that enables users to manage their projects the way they want it. We did a software review for smartsheet.