For decades, project management has become an essential aspect of running a business in corporate America and around the world. Unfortunately, the management of projects is not as straightforward as many people might think.
Projects fail every year for a number of reasons, but many organizations attribute the failure only to ineffective tools or the incorrect use of a methodology for a given project. I often hear excuses such as, “If I would have used Agile instead of the traditional methodology on this project, the team would have been able to communicate and interact better,” or “Tracking all these issues, action items and risks is way too cumbersome. If I would have had a better tracking tool, my project would not have failed.”
But I say, “Let’s be realistic and accept what truly caused that project to fail.”
In an effort to address project failures, I see organizations spend thousands of dollars on new tools to get organized and better track all aspects of a project. Plain and simple, they fail to understand that the failure of projects is not caused by one thing in particular, but by a combination of other factors that are critical to the business.
In the past 25-plus years I’ve spent as an IT project manager and program manager, I have learned that areas of a business such as its culture, mission, vision and the way the team collaborates play critical roles in the success of a project. It is that combination of technical knowledge, using the right methodology and leadership skills that leads to the successful implementation of a project, thus saving thousands, and at times millions, of dollars for an organization.
Important Steps To Avoid Project Failure
1. Understand the culture and your team. Most project managers are so well trained in the technical aspects of how to run a project that they forget the importance of the culture and the team. The culture of that organization was already in place well before they started to work there; therefore, it is the responsibility of a project manager to try to understand how things work, and then adapt.
Getting to know all the resources and members of the organization from the CEO all the way to the business analyst is an essential step to avoid project failure. If you are not perceived well by your team and sponsors, how easy do you believe it will be for you to run that project? How can you obtain cooperation from the team if you do not put the effort into trying to get to personally know each one of them? What about the vendors, consultants and functional managers? They are also critical parts of your team, so you need to learn about them as well.
2. Lead by example. There are many characteristics that you can find in a leader, but the ones I believe are most critical to possess as a project manager are strong communication skills, outstanding listening skills and the ability to inspire others to get the work done. Without these three characteristics, how can you motivate your team and peers?
3. Understand the business. No matter what project you are running within an organization, as a project manager, it is critical to understand the mission and vision of the business. You need to understand what generates revenue for the company. How do they do business? Who are the sponsors of the project? Why are they doing this project? How visible is the project?
By understanding the business, you will be able to better prepare yourself to provide the necessary updates to the executives of the organization and have a better plan in place to communicate with everyone on the team.
4. Determine the success criteria of a project. The success of a project can be measured in many ways. Having issues and mitigating risks is part of the life cycle of a project and therefore expected to happen without impacting the success of a project.
The success of a project is usually based on whether it was completed on time, within scope and on budget. But is that truly the only success criteria that should be taken into consideration? In my experience, the answer is absolutely not. The satisfaction of your team and the satisfaction of your customers are in many cases more important than schedule, scope and budget.
In a nutshell, if you want to avoid failing on your projects, focus on what matters to the business and to the team. Once you understand that simple aspect, everything else will fall in place. Yes, it is that simple. Be open-minded, communicate and listen.