The Run-On Effects of Failed Projects

Project management is far from a new concept. Some historians say its origins date back to the Egyptian era, and even modern project management practices can be traced back to as early as the turn of the 20th century. But that doesn’t mean companies have mastered effective project management.

Although steps have been made in the right direction, projects still fail. A PwC study found that only a small fraction of companies (2.5%) successfully completed 100% of their projects. And the failures can snowball into long-term limits on your company’s ability to scale.

The Most Common Reasons Why Projects Fail

If you were to do an autopsy on all your projects, you would see recurring themes. Here are the three most common “causes of death” for projects:

Scope Creep: Scope creep is the most common proximate cause of project failure. Growth is good for a business, but projects should not be seeking to expand once they’re post-launch.

A project with three deliverables comes with entirely different expectations, structures, and plans than one with 10. The latter may be an entire multi-year, multi-project program unto itself. But when additions get incrementally tacked on over time, the project is often still run the same way, and you can get to the end of the first budget cycle only to find it’s already past budget despite being less than halfway complete. This is the point when many projects get canceled without a workable solution.

Therefore, there needs to be a process for ordering changes to ensure they’re necessary, to re-sync the plan, and to recalibrate stakeholder expectations.

• Leadership Vacuums: Leadership failure includes a whole broad set of causes for failure. In fact, we argue that leadership deficiencies are the root of all project failures. Examples of these shortcomings can be a lack of leaders, a lack of foresight or conviction within leadership, or disputes between leaders. No matter the cause, the result is a lack of clear project directives. Small things fall through the cracks without one voice steering the project management ship, which leads to large-scale failures.

• Miscommunication: Miscommunication in project management can happen in all mediums, including casual conversations, weekly rundowns, and quarterly reports. Sometimes, it’s akin to playing a game of telephone when relaying instructions to a team from multiple departments. If there’s no rigorous communication management process and sufficient administrative roles to run it, project details get lost, forgotten, misheard, or misremembered.

These aren’t the only contributors to project failure, but they can be the most common and potentially detrimental. And when left untreated, the run-on consequences can be long-lasting.

FOUR Ripple Effect of Failed Projects

What fate do you tempt by allowing the issues above to persist? The potential implications often include the following:

1) Failure to deliver proposed benefits and solutions

Say you’re a retail provider trying to launch an app that better appeals to your on-the-go target audience. You’ve forecasted needs, projected the costs required to make it all happen, and everything has stayed on schedule — and in the end, the app tanks. It crashes for some users, doesn’t work for others, and generally makes the buying process more difficult than if someone were to just go into a brick-and-mortar location. Routine project failure has the potential to be disastrous for internal project morale and public reputation.

2) Project avoidance

If a particular approach or solution fails, it can get a bad rap within the organization. Apprehension can manifest in many ways. For example, if a previous project failed due to scope creep, then maybe the organization will be shy about adding costs to projects in the future, even when critical adjustments are necessary.

Long term, avoidance can also leave leadership trepidatious about launching similar projects in the future. All because of past project mishaps.

3) Layoffs

Anyone associated with the project could find themselves out of a job. Whether it’s a technology integration or a growth strategy, project failure can cause even the most valued of employees to get the cut.

4) Market disadvantage

When projects fail, organizations can fall behind the competition. If the project is a sizable one, failure could eat away at a company’s long-term viability.

Project management failure happens occasionally, but it doesn’t have to persist and dampen a company’s big-picture goals. By identifying project failure red flags and giving your team the consistent support it needs, you can make effective project management the norm.

If you’d like additional information on effective project management practices or to learn more about what WiserWulff can do for your operations, please let us know. We can sit down with you to discuss your options and find a solution perfectly suited to your organization.

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