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Problems on Projects

Posted by admin on January 20, 2014

Well-managed projects can help manufacturers achieve true competitive advantage.  But when projects fail, it is a waste of resources, a morale killer and sometimes a career limiter.

Typical project failures fall into three buckets:

  • Not achieving the objectives for the project
  • Not meeting the project deadlines
  • Running over budget

Projects are not like batting in baseball. Nailing two out of three will not have you batting .666.  It generally means project failure, no matter how well the other two categories were met.

Some of the common problems we have seen with individual projects are:

  • Poor project definition – A project should have a very focused definition of what is to be accomplished.  If the definition is too broad, it can lead to confusion about the scope of the project.
  • Fuzzy objectives – The project objectives should be as specific as possible and include firm objectives for the expenditure, deadline, results to be achieved, etc.  Without these, success of the project will be in the eye of the beholder based on subjective criteria.
  • No established or unrealistic deadlines – Even with a deadline for the overall project, it is critical to define deadlines for all the project steps and sub-projects.  This will show if the overall project deadline can be met. 
  • Illogical sequencing of activities – The sequencing of project activities will show where there are potential bottlenecks that can impact project results.  Making sequencing visible in chart form will show these problems pretty quickly.
  •   Lack of resources – We don’t know of any organization that is not resource constrained these days, whether the resources are people or financial.  If the internal human resources are not available, consider using external resources on a contract or consulting basis.
  • Low organizational commitment – Unless the plant or company leadership shows commitment to the project, the project will be starting with a disadvantage.  This commitment must be in word and action.
  • No project manager – In all but the most unusual cases, a team cannot be an effective project manager.  Yes, the team is critical to project success, but it needs an individual leader who will push the team to keep everything on track.

While we have seen our fair share of problems on projects, the problem that concerns us most is when a company does not take a portfolio view of all the projects that are underway.  Even when individual project plans are done well, the portfolio view will show where resource constraints will stress these individual projects.  In addition, the project portfolio will include information on which projects will have the greatest impact on the company’s success so projects can be prioritized properly.  With this approach, the portfolio manager can easily say that a lower-priority project will have to wait because the resources are needed for a high-priority project.  This will be backed up by the leadership’s commitment to project prioritization.

Finally, a word about failure.  There are times when a project is well managed, but fails for some reason.  It is important to understand why the project failed and to learn from it.  If we don’t fail once in a while, we’re not stretching far enough and the company is destined to stagnate.  Learning from failure is as important as celebrating success.