Project Failure

Most projects fail. A bold statement, which has probably already irritated any project managers reading this. But they do. I’m not talking total, catastrophic failure – that doesn’t apply to “most”, just quite a few. But nearly all projects will fail to achieve at least one goal.

Consider the typical project goals – achieve business change, for a set cost, by a set time, without hurting anyone. Please comment below if your project or package has achieved all of this at once! Projects I’ve been involved in have usually achieved the desired business change – so the product was launched, or the thing was built as desired. But it’s been late, or there have been cost over runs, or sometimes both! (Usually not my fault I hasten to add, just in case prospective clients are put off!)

As projects become more and more “financial”, with the involvement of major shareholders and investors, Ive learnt that under spends are viewed just as negatively as over spends. It’s a sign you aren’t managing things effectively and you aren’t in control if you get to the end of the project and hand back a cosiderable sum.

The worst goal to fail on, and the hardest one to achieve, is the safety one. It relies on so many things, including culture. A simple task can often result in an incident. And unlike cost and schedule targets, if you have a zero incident target, you can’t get it back once the incident has occurred, no matter what you do. I had a discussion with the Head of HSE for a major developer a year or so ago about why his safety target wasn’t zero LTIs. It’s not acceptable to target more than zero LTIs, however, if your target is zero and you have one on day 1 of the project then the target is gone. Perhaps he had a point…..

During the main project I’m working on I asked what the project goals were, and struggled to get an answer. Sometimes everyone is too focussed on what they think they are doing to really understand the big picture.
Consider the construction of an offshore windfarm, for example. How do you measure success? You have a budget, a schedule and a clear goal of not hurting anyone. Is that it? Generate power for less than the budget, before D-day, ensure everyone goes home safe and have you succeeded? Well yes to be blunt – that’s more than a lot of OWF project achieve. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. When change occurs, or an unplanned or unexpected thing happens, which of the objectives is it acceptable to miss? Do you throw all the money in the world at achieving the deadline? Or do you accept things going late as long as you don’t spend anymore money? Or do you even consider those project goals when dealing with change? Is change something that just happens?

Controlling project change is crucial to the success of your project. Things will go wrong in your project, goalposts will move, circumstances will affect things. It’s how you react to and manage that change which will ultimately affect the success or failure of your project.

Get in touch to discuss how Alan Kelly Projects can help your project manage change effectively.