Why do we fail?
A quick check on Google suggests that when it comes to identifying reasons for project failure, we are quite good at outlining the causes and are unashamedly transparent in providing lessons learnt. Internet resources often point to similar reasons for project failure, with the common causes being – poor project definition, inadequate risk management and ineffective communication.
All the reasons are legitimate. The key elements to remember, address and mitigate before undertaking a project. But, if the reasons for failure are so well publicised, why are we still so bad at running projects?
A truly successful project relies on a concurrent set of conditions to be met. As such, it is much easier to talk about project pitfalls and the challenges to be mindful of. But, typically, what is being described are ‘symptoms’ of the wider root cause – the lack of strategy. At a practical level, the discussion of strategy is rarely diagnosed as the root cause, maybe because a ‘strategy’ is too ethereal and something that ‘head office does’; not grounded in reality or any application to real life.
Not having a clear, cohesive strategy that is communicated to all is a mistake. Strategy, both corporate and commercial, should be woven into the fabric of an organisation and should be communicated to all levels. After all, if your company has a strategy to become paperless next year, should your HR team invest in a training solution that involves a written exam?
Project failure occurs indiscriminately and is inherent in all industries. Despite spending time and resources agonising over why the project failed, we continue to fail consistently the next time, and the time after that, often paying external consultants to assess and rescue failing projects. The insight has shown that there is no single method or organisational structure that has greater success in managing projects. Some organisations favour a decentralised team whilst others prefer a standardised and centralised capability.
What’s clear is that rarely do projects fail because of inadequate investment or complexity, they fail because all elements of the strategy are not fully fleshed out before the project starts. Companies do not invest the time upfront to fully define, explore and align these elements to ensure the project is delivered in a frictionless manner. Furthermore, projects which are delivered often struggle to realise the benefits outlined, according to one study by Wellington’s 2018 ‘The State of Project Management Report’; only 36% deliver the full benefits identified.