Recently, one of my LinkedIn acquaintances asked me if I had some time to speak to him on project management learning, to which I agreed, since someone was asking advice and I believe in giving back to the society.
When I was speaking to him for an hour on precautions to be taken during project management, he agreed on most of the points saying that yes, I am also facing similar issues and your advice will help me.
That’s when it struck me that there are so many things which I have unconsciously inculcated in my project execution style, that it is completely undocumented anywhere.
Since majority of my career is in execution of IT projects in banking software products companies, all of my knowledge is related to that.
While it is almost practically impossible to list down everything over here, I will list down a few pitfalls experienced by me.
All of us know that project management is primarily a triangle of Scope, Schedule and Cost. If any of these dimensions change, it will have an impact on the other two. Hence it is very important to contain all this right from the beginning.
I will categorize project failure points into few categories listed below. This all are listed using real life problems I have faced in my project management career.
- Under estimation – Due to inexperience or lack of insights into detailed requirements, most PM does incorrect estimation at the contracting stage which starts the vicious cycle of putting fewer resources into the project or exhaust efforts too fast, resulting into unavailability of the required bandwidth at a crucial stage of project. At times, PM underestimates the integration efforts or competency-building lead time required in the initial stage of the project.
- Lack of clarity in requirements– Scope creep and moving target is a major influencer in project failures. Due to continuously evolving requirements and failure to baseline the scope, delays become inevitable as we cross gates. One needs to define an airtight requirement gathering process before the project starts. In fact, don’t even allow the project to start until you, your team, your stakeholders, and your sponsor are all on the same page. And then treat that requirements document like a binding contract till the end of the project.
- Lack of stakeholder identification and engagement – Many PM inadvertently miss out on identifying and engaging stakeholders in the early stages of the project (like the operations team or regulatory reporting team). They get shocked when they identify these issues during the execution stage and then PM has to reinvent the wheel of understanding their requirements and its implications on cost and schedule. It is better to have discussions with project sponsors as early as possible to identify and finalize the list of stakeholders.
- HR and team management issues – Even with the right estimation and proper project planning, PMs grossly under estimate the lead time required to recruit and/or induct team members in the project. This results in the project turning to Amber or Red right from the start of the project. Due to lack of PM’s interpersonal skills, conflict arises among old and new team members to such an extent that they work towards making the project a failure instead of a success. Do not forget the budget team building activities at the start of the project as well as during the course of time to maintain bonding.
- Lack of governance – Due to lack of assessment and measurement against planned goals in governance meetings, progress is not measured as expected and by the time one realizes it, things have gone out of the control. Sometimes governance oversight happens because of the charisma, confidence and flamboyance of the individual, whereby the board extends a long rope to the star to do his or her magic. Or sometimes it also fails because of lack of stakeholders’ interest due to low ROI, political interference or personal benefits. This snowballs into delays and failure as we reach payment milestones.
- Lack of risk management – First time PM or not so seasoned PM often overlook risks involved in the project and think that they can manage critical risks by themselves. This problem surfaces when board members question them during review meeting or crisis situations. PM need to continuously question themselves as to what can go wrong for each activity and plan mitigation.
- Inadequate quality focus – Again, these problems happen due to lack of testing strategy and clear quality expectations upfront. It is better to ensure that the different kind of testing involved are documented, tools are procured and required scenarios are upfront discussed with business users and signed-off. It is better to have Testing Walk through strategy with business and right set of stakeholders.
- Lack of communication – Most PM forgets to do periodic communication with stakeholders in the thick of problems. This causes major confusion among team members and stakeholders resulting in wastage of time to clear the air. One needs to have a very clear communication process set up front and should religiously follow the same.
- Lessons learned – Most PM forget to ask (or refer) management for lessons learned from their past projects during the kickoff phase. Past lessons learnt can be great source of help in avoiding known pitfalls in similar working culture, environment and teams.
Please note that this is not exhaustive list as it will require a full book to be written about it (it is a nice idea that struck me while writing this article, perhaps I can implement it in the future).
Do share your recent experiences regarding project failure points.
Happy Project Management !!!