Why Projects Fail and How You Can Save Them

Last updated on July 5th, 2021 at 08:11 pm

Have you ever begun a new project or commission filled with optimism and excitement, only to be left weeks or months later feeling overwhelmed, stressed and worried that you might fail. Welcome to a reality that most of us have experienced when working on complex projects and which you might be struggling through now.

Why Projects Fail and How You Can Save Them

Learning From Failure

Individuals involved in activities as varied as the arts, design, engineering and marketing, might find themselves working on complex projects, either alone or as part of a team. Typical measures for success in such a project could include; being on time, being on budget and satisfying customer expectations. However, many projects fail to achieve all of these measures of success and often they achieve none of them. In most cases, this does not mean that the project will not be delivered, unless things go very badly wrong, but rather that it will not meet the objectives detailed within the initial project plan.

Clients can be left feeling unhappy with the quality of the work that they have paid for. They are unlikely to become a repeat customer, or recommend the work to other people. The individual or team responsible for a project deemed to have failed to some extent can be left feeling demotivated and blame themselves. This could be the case, even if they believe that they have worked to the full extent of their capabilities.

We are often told that overcoming failure can make us stronger and that it is part of the learning process. However this requires you to understand why things went wrong and what steps you can take to ensure that future projects are completed more successfully. One of the benefits of experience is that having endured past failures and learned from them, you should be in a better position to cope with such difficulties if you meet them again.

Communicating Requirements

Although project failures can be caused by unexpected events including accidents or illness, they generally result from factors such as unrealistic expectations, poor communication and lack of a good project plan. Often there are too many requirements for a project and this leads to time and resources being devoted to things that are not essential.

An individual or team responsible for a project, should agree with the client which essentials must be delivered, along with any dependencies. There should be a clear understanding of the sequence in which tasks need to be completed, so as to reduce delays and increase efficiency. The available budget, resources and time can then be allocated in such a way that the key elements are delivered and the project completed on schedule.

Addressing the issues that can lead to project failure requires skill and experience. Those carrying out the work must understand the project and what is needed to complete it both on time and to the required standard. Core requirements should be agreed with the client before work begins and progress communicated clearly as required.

Project Planning

An experienced professional should know how to plan, prioritise and make efficient use of available resources. They should be prepared for and able to overcome potential challenges. The various tasks required to complete a project should be broken down into clearly defined stages, with a number of hours allocated to each stage. Although unexpected issues can arise, by having a realistic project plan in place you will be in a better position to allocate time and resources needed to deal with them effectively.

Good project planning is often easier said than done, as a client might have unrealistic expectations regarding what can be achieved, within the budget and time available. However, a professional should have the experience needed to confidently explain to a client what can be achieved within the constraints of a project. If you do not express confidence in your own abilities, how can expect a client to have confidence in you.

Although some people might get work by bidding too little and promising more than they can deliver, this typically leads to delays, missed targets, additional costs and unhappy clients. Sticking to more realistic proposals might lose you some work, but you are more likely to enjoy successful and fulfilling projects. Satisfied clients will be more likely to recommend you to others, enhancing your reputation as a reliable professional, leading to greater long term success.

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Posted in Communication.