Whether it’s large-scale, international product development, an IT initiative, a reorganisation or relocation, or something as seemingly simple as defining KPIs: most of us are more or less permanently involved in at least one project. That means that projects are a consistent factor in our lives, and yet so many fail. Why? And how can failure be avoided? Given their omnipresence, it would seem sensible to reflect on why, despite having become a normal part of everyday life, so many projects go wrong. Depending on which statistics are used and which timeframe is applied, around two thirds of projects are completed behind schedule, at a higher cost, or without the results originally envisioned; around one sixth of projects are complete failures. To make the issue easier to grasp, in this essay we will be focussing on projects of a significant size – i.e. of special importance and defined as “mission critical”. We call them “elephants” because, if they’re allowed to, they have a tendency break loose and go on disorientated rampages through entire companies, by which stage it is too late to put them down – and, mysteriously, their original handlers have slunk away into the swirling dust …
1 | NO RISK, NO RESULT: PROJECTS CAN (AND DO) GO WRONG.
Projects are uncertain by nature
The five key questions good project managers ask themselves
2 | WHAT TO TACKLE: YOUR BIG PROJECT SURVIVAL KIT.
Were the project goals set out in a clear way that is understandable to everyone involved? Were these goals – as well as the corresponding schedules and resources – subjected to a solid, plausible (perhaps even repeated) feasibility study? Are the project goals systematically adapted to changes in the environment (e.g. revised customer expectations, new knowledge and technologies, redefined business strategy)? Was a separate channel of project communication created that can not only disseminate signals and status updates, but receive information too? Does the project have a governance function in accordance with its risk factor and expectations placed on it which can keep the organisation and the project on course?