Avoiding Project Failure

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that project teams require tools and support to do their work efficiently and effectively. The tools may consist of hardware or equipment and support may be composed of the people needed to maintain those tools and assist the team with their use. If the tools and support are an afterthought, or insufficient resources are allocated to provide them, the project is in trouble. Most project plans make unrealistic assumptions about the productivity of the project team from the beginning. Productivity rapidly drops to zero when necessary tools and support are unavailable or unreliable.

Project budgets should include procurement and support of the infrastructure required to perform project work.

5. “We can fix that during the next phase of the effort...”
Hearing this is usually a sign that the schedule is in trouble, and that someone is about to declare a phase of the project “complete”, whether it is complete or not. Consider also the word “fix” which suggests that something is broken. While there are occasions when it might be prudent to delay correcting defects immediately, it isn’t prudent nearly as often as it is suggested. Common sense tells us that it is cheaper and faster to fix an error in the blueprint with a pencil than to move a misplaced foundation with a jackhammer. Delay in fixing obvious problems is frequently short sighted, since the correction will usually take more time and resources later, and may affect the quality of the final product. Typically, after you hear this phrase several times on a project, the team will usually begin to reply under their breath “There is never time to do it right, but always time to do it twice." This response speaks volumes about the morale problems and lack of cohesiveness that this tactic can create on a project along with schedule and cost overruns.

Project phase checkpoints should be defined in terms of clear and unambiguous completion criteria that measure the quality of the work products created against an objective standard.

6. “Have they found a replacement for the Project Manager yet?”
This can suggest disaster for several reasons:

First, good project managers are hard to find, but instrumental to project success. The project manager is like a pilot - steering the effort toward completion. If the project manager is missing, who is flying the plane? The project manager should have a back-up ready to keep things on course should the project manager be hit by a truck, win the lottery, or (heaven forbid) simply get sick and miss a week or two. No significant amount of time should pass on a project without a Project Manager at the helm.

A second consideration when the project manager is missing is “Why?”. When a project is in trouble, the project manager is usually one of the first to know. If the project manager doesn’t have the skills or can’t get the support from the sponsor to resolve the situation, he or she will sometimes strap on a parachute and jump. Whenever a project loses a project manager in the middle, it’s reasonable to worry about his or her motivation for leaving.

Finally, if team members feel they have to periodically ASK if there is a project manager, it suggests pretty terrible project communication.

Projects should always

7. “Here’s the last spec we published, but you must understand this is an evolutionary process... the spec will never be completely up-to-date.”
This one can seem subtle to some people, but it can suggest a real problem if you think about it. Most projects (high tech, low tech, no tech) end up

About the author

Payson Hall's picture Payson Hall

Payson Hall is a consulting project manager for Catalysis Group, Inc. in Sacramento, California. Payson consults on project management issues and teaches project management. Email Payson at payson@catalysisgroup.com. Follow him on twitter at @paysonhall.

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