3 reasons projects fail

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3 reasons projects fail

You think you can blame others or tight constraints or issues for project failures. But in the end, it falls to the project manager. We must own it. I love it when people start trying to assess root causes of project failure and they include unrealistic expectations of delivery timeline and unrealistic budget expectations. Certainly those can cause failure for the standpoint that the timeline and budget expectations weren't met. But whose fault is that anyway? That's like saying "I was late because I locked my keys in the car." Was the problem that your keys were inside the car and it was locked or is it that you caused that to happen? Who is to blame? You are. You're the one stupid enough to lock your keys in the car. Likewise, if you can say out loud that my project is failing due to unrealistic expectations of timeline and / or budget, then that means you knew timeline and budget were a problem to begin with. Sounds to me that the real problem is that you didn't raise the issue at the beginning of the project when you knew it was unrealistic.

In the business world we are so quick to try to pass blame that it's become easier to just try and fail and then point fingers and try to get sympathy or empathy. I'm not buying it. What is really lacking is boldness and leadership.

So why do projects fail?

I'm not going to make this hard or very detailed. It really comes down to threes areas. Remember, these are OUR projects. We should be invested in them to the fullest. So keep that in mind as you read through these...

1. Lack of ownership.

We can't control everything, but we can certainly own what we can control. And that is always the expectation of the project managers who are managing the company's projects. They "own it." Success or failure - they are at the helm. If something is needed for the project then it is the PM's responsibility to go out and get it or at least ask for it or demand it. No one else is to blame here - it's the PM's job.

2. Lack of leadership.

Likewise, leadership is required. The PM can't go around whining about the team being out of control. Well, they can, but they would be in denial that the real problem is their own ability to earn and retain project team member respect and following. The onus for that is on the project manager. And if he does everything he can to make that happen and it just isn't working, then it is still his responsibility to raise the flag that he needs to replace the rogue resource and the push to make that happen. He can sit and wait if it is slow in happening, but he will still be blamed for the project failure so in reality he better be pretty proactive in making that switch happen.

3. Other things outside of our control.

And now for everything else. Yes, some things can come up that are completely outside of the PM’s control. If you are running projects from Las Vegas it isn't likely that a flood will occur so if one does its easy to see why the PM maybe didn't plan for that. But even then it's still their project and blame will fall to the project manager. Things outside of the PM’s control can be frustrating, but it doesn’t override their need and responsibility to own the success and failure for the entire project.

Stop passing blame over project failures, just own it.

I'm tired of people blaming project failure on unrealistic expectations of budget and timeline. If it's my project, I own it. And if I was handed a project that I felt couldn't meet the timeline and budget that was bestowed upon me and I don't say anything or do anything about it and then it fails... the problem wasn't the unrealistic expectations of timeline and budget. The problem was me - I didn't speak up and say, "This won't work! We need more time and / or more money to do this project the right way." If I don't raise the flag at the beginning when I see the problem, the onus is on me... not some concept that I was given a project with unrealistic expectations.