Seasoned project managers have learned to recognize the signs of failure. M Powered Strategies’ (MPS) President Kendall Lott collected a dozen stories about project failure in the latest PM Point of View Podcast, to gather perspectives on the causes and results of failure. Interestingly, many of the interviewees noted that they foresaw the project’s failure at an early stage, but were unable to resolve issues in the following days, weeks, or months to prevent it. The common theme tying these failures together is poor communication, especially where different parties have different expectations and perspectives on outcomes and goals.
One program manager worked on a software-development scheme with the United States Air Force. In this project, the team operated with an initial scope and promised the stakeholders particular deadlines, only to later ask for extension after extension as the scope expanded. Once a project manager came onboard to look at the big picture and re-determine scope, he realized the estimates were wildly off the mark. He brought the flaws to the attention of all parties involved and they created a plan with more variables. This was the same issue with the creation of the tabletop game, Dungeons and Dragons. The business saw infinite growth with the upsurge in popularity and not recognizing the signs of downward contraction.
Communication is vital. One interviewee explained how confusion surrounding leadership in the Affordable Care Act delayed the technical implementation and created a national controversy with the healthcare.gov rollout. Who owned the rollout, Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)? Would the correct departments and teams receive the right amount of funding to continue their efforts? Due to a lack of communication, these issues mired the whole IT program. A USAID team operating in Afghanistan suffered the similar issues; they were ordered to carry out specific development programs but were not given the necessary budget. If these questions were answered earlier, these communication errors would not have derailed the entire project. As such, any changes were met with hostility from the others, undermining the project as a whole.
To avoid the most common project failure pitfalls, all stakeholders need to agree on the same timeline, outcome, and goals. Without consensus, individuals may accidentally or maliciously steer the project in a different direction at everyone else’s expense. Clear communication between all parties is critical to successful project management.