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Top Reasons Why Your Projects Fail (and How to Fix Them)

September 28th, 2015

When you embark on a new project, everything seems possible, doesn’t it? The project will be completed on time, maybe even under budget, and you will finally be recognized as the hero that you are.

Except that’s not what happens.

In reality, you’re two weeks past the deadline, you’ve sped over the budget like a race car driver, and you get nervous every time you see an email from your boss.

Let’s take a deep, cleansing breath, shall we? It’s not the end of the world. In fact, today we’re going to help you figure out why your project probably failed, and the best way to get it back on track.

Reason #1: A Failure to Communicate

Poor communication doesn’t just affect marriages, it can impact team morale in a big way. When any member of your team lacks a clear understanding of their role in your project, it creates a domino effect on the entire team.

Start off each project with a clear goal and expectation, but don’t just keep it to yourself– communicate your vision with your team. Everyone should understand the goal of the project and how each individual contributes.

But it’s not enough to have one pep talk at the beginning of the project. Commit to regular check-ins with each team member where they update you on their status. This allows you to address any problems in the beginning stages, before they balloon into major issues.

Reason #2: Inexperience

Whether it’s you, your team, or both that’s inexperienced, this could spell out disaster for your project. A capable worker is often promoted to the position of project manager without receiving leadership training. Now, the new project manager is in a position of authority but lacks the necessary tools to motivate his or her staff, provide a clear vision, and turn actions into results.

The good news about inexperience is that project management can be taught. In fact, everyone from Stanford University to Udemy provides (free) courses in project management that you can enroll in today to get a big dose of education.

Reason #3: Scope Creep

Scope creep is when a project grows bigger than originally planned. Making little changes here and there can eventually derail your train, if you’re not cautious. First of all, it can negatively impact your budget. Secondly, it can delay your completion date because you’ve had to adjust your roadmap for the new changes.

Scope creep sneaks its way into a lot of projects, but there is an effective way to manage it. Either:

  1. Do zero-sum. Remove elements from your project to accommodate the new scope.
  2. Change the project deadline in writing and charge accordingly. Nothing stops scope creep quite like having to pay in time or money.

Reason #4: Unrealistic Expectations

It’s incredibly easy to underestimate how long a project will take. Clients or other stakeholders have a bad habit of suggesting unrealistic expectations for project deadline. It’s your responsibility to give yourself enough wiggle room to account for unforeseen delays.

It’s the old adage that you ask for extra time and then deliver before the deadline: under promise, over deliver. Your first priority is to set reasonable expectations that give your team time to breathe, put out any fires, and accomplish the project goal.

Reason #5: Not Enough Resources

It happens. You’ve underestimated the budget required to complete your project. This often goes hand in hand with scope creep. Now, you have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, or worse– you actually have to ask the client for more money. Yikes!

Here’s where good, detailed planning comes in handy. Account for potential budget busters and make sure that you have enough resources to manage them. Go through and meticulously list your budget needs, and make sure that you stay on top of it.

It’s not enough to look at your budget at the beginning of your project. You must also keep an eye on it throughout, and make course corrections as necessary to keep both your budget and your project on track.

Reason #6: Poor Risk Management

Because we often lean towards the optimistic side, few of us really want to think of the what ifs. However, if you’re in charge of overseeing a project, that’s exactly what you have to do. Not only that, you also need to make contingency plans in case something goes wrong. For each project, you should create a list of foreseeable problems and how you’ll respond if you encounter them.

Reason #7: You Aren’t Working with the Right People

Not every team is equipped for every project. Your project may have failed because the team dynamic didn’t work, or because those in key positions were just unable to deliver the goods.

If you have a crashed project that’s burning as we speak, it may not be too late to re-organize your team. Bring in someone new, or shuffle members into new responsibilities (that are still within their range of abilities). You may find that this new arrangement is exactly what your team needed all along.

Final Thoughts

As long as you’re still project manager, you have the opportunity to correct your errors and rescue your projects from complete and total failure. If you see a project getting away from you, check out these seven common failures, and implement the remedy. Let’s turn tragedy into triumph.

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