Many projects designed to drive change and innovation fail to live up to expectations and deliver disappointing outcomes.
What’s more, a significant number of projects fail before they even start, meaning that project failure often begins right at the outset.
If you take an in-depth look at some industry data points and statistics, you’ll notice that the number of projects that failed to deliver significant value has not really improved over the last 20 years.
So, why are troubled projects sadly all too common? Why is improving success rates one of the greatest project management challenges even though organisations have all the key ingredients for project success at their fingertips?
The answer to that is simple. Funnily enough, people try to overcomplicate what seems to be quite a straightforward activity, namely, going back to the basics and identifying why the project went wrong.
In other words, people keep reinventing the wheel around the same scenario and throw themselves into a myriad of unnecessary factors rather than taking a back-to-basics approach and following the essential steps.
Overcomplicating and overthinking project management instead of just identifying the bottleneck and working out solutions to fix the issues is like when you ask a question seeking a simple answer and people launch into a long diatribe but without actually answering the question.
Therefore, a back-to-basics approach will enable you to spot issues before they have a chance to derail your plans.
Table of contents:
1. Debunking A Myth: Project Failure Is Avoidable, Not Inevitable
When a project becomes troubled or fails, many organisations take a misstep by creating a new process in order to get the project back on track.
But do they actually need to create a new process? No, not by any means.
You may have heard of Occam’s Razor, but did you know you can apply it to project management?
Occam’s Razor, put simply, states: “The simplest solution (or explanation) is almost always the best.”
So, when a project fails to live up to expectations or has gaps in some processes, you need to go back to the very basics, acknowledge your mistakes, and fix them.
You just need to follow the basic steps correctly from the get-go to deliver an expected set of outcomes, meaning that project failure is avoidable, not inevitable.
Why is it so? Because projects are predictable with quite remarkable accuracy.
Projects have precise requirements and a clear scope and set of outcomes. Thus, they’re predictable.
Yes, delivering projects is probably the highest risk investment for any organisation as they have a lower level of control on the desired outcomes.
Nevertheless, running a project is like baking a cake using a recipe. If you follow a baking recipe to the letter, you can only get a cake as good as the recipe you use.
Same for project management. If you follow six key ingredients in project delivery, you can only get a good result and avoid failure.
However, many organisations are unintentionally complicating the entire program they are trying to deliver by implementing too many processes or not embedding the right culture to deliver projects.
They create complex methodologies and intricate business processes and rules instead of doing a resource analysis that would take them back to one of the six basic points listed below.
So, let’s closely examine the essential steps for successful project execution and completion.
2. 6 Basic Steps To Ensure Project Success
The six steps mentioned below are key ingredients for successfully delivering projects on time and within budget and realising project benefits.
However, when following them, you must not overlook consistency.
Whatever action you take, you need to have a consistent approach to reach a higher level of project success.
1. Investing heavily in the planning phase
Too many organisations consider planning as a second-rate activity, as something that has to be done but without investing too much time to have a clearly understood scope and outcomes.
However, skipping project planning is a surefire way to get into trouble later. The truth is that a large number of organisations don’t want to spend money on planning, as they are willing to get into execution straight away.
Suppose you are building a bridge. Your first reflex may be to dive right in and create the structural elements, such as the steel beam or pier caps. You may want to get to the exciting part as soon as possible rather than planning for your bridge construction.
Nonetheless, there’s no shortcut to a good outcome. As a general rule, you should spend 80% of your time planning and only 20% budgeting and executing.
You need, therefore, to go slow (and plan properly) to go fast.
2. Investing heavily in the right people
This phase of project management is related to three key areas:
- Sponsorship – Designed to support a project financially and through providing leadership and consulting.
- Delivery – The selection of the delivery method (e.g., Traditional – Design/Bid/Build, CM or Construction Manager, Design-Build, Integrated Delivery Process, etc.) will influence the team composition, schedule, budget, and management plans to be followed throughout the process.
- Execution – Describing how, when, and by whom a specific set of outcomes is to be achieved. The team members involved in the execution phase are responsible for Requests for Information (RFIs), conflict resolution, inspections, submittal reviews, change order management, and more.
Therefore, to get the desired outcomes, you need the right people on board – and they must have a clear understanding of their tasks and roles.
As previously mentioned, all the hard work is done in planning, while the easy work is executing according to that plan (and with the right people).
3. Executing against specific key areas
This phase of project management involves the execution against six key areas:
- Budget -You need to clearly estimate what the costs of the project will be for every phase of the project (e.g., labour costs, material procurement costs, operating costs, etc.)
- Schedule – Time affects and constrains projects, so you need to know exactly when planning begins, when a project phase should end, and when deliverables can be shipped.
- Risks – When planning for risks, you begin by acknowledging that risk is likely to happen in your project, and you need to be prepared with a risk management plan.
- Issues – You should clearly identify the problems that can be encountered in executing project activities and eliminate or minimise their impact.
- Deliverables – Every project must include precise, quantifiable goods or services that need to be provided at the various phases as well as at the end of the project.
- Milestones – Project milestones serve the same purpose as the signboards you see on the road that indicate the distance left to cover to reach your destination, namely, keeping you informed of your progress and helping you identify a significant achievement.
4. Understanding project team roles and responsibilities
Successful projects are the result of efficient collaboration.
One of the most common mistakes at this phase is appreciating that a project is handed to a project manager rather than to an organisation.
All too often, the project manager is replaced in an ongoing project that becomes troubled (instead of improving their effectiveness through collaboration).
There is no doubt that the project manager has a lot of responsibility, such as planning, organising, leading and managing the team, managing deliverables according to the plan, etc.
Nevertheless, individuals covering key roles within an organisation need to do their part and undertake their duties, including the C-suite and leadership team and the steering group.
Thus, the project manager is mainly the facilitator of all the right people coming together to perform the right operations at the right time. Still, they do not undertake the responsibility for the whole project.
The smooth and timely completion of any project requires individuals to clearly understand their roles and responsibilities within a project across all levels of the organisation.
5. Creating an environment where it is safe to deliver bad news
No matter how well you plan, your project may encounter unexpected problems.
When a project hits a snag, the best approach is to have an honest conversation in order to manage expectations upfront and increase trust through transparency.
So, you need to operate with transparency, which also involves timeliness and clarity of reporting.
Your communication approach needs to be grounded on principles such as integrity, honesty, and respect.
The strategies for reporting bad news and their potential impact on the project’s performance may depend on the culture of the organisation in which the project is being delivered, but you always need to communicate the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
So, hiding bad news (or not creating an environment where it is all right to deliver them) will always have a negative impact on the project.
6. Always seeing the big picture
Seeing the bigger picture is an essential skill in project management.
By developing a complete perspective of a situation and thinking about how your actions can affect the overall success of a project (rather than focusing on your accountability routine), you will be able to make decisions that drive long-term results.
Furthermore, you will have a good grasp of the connections between basic tasks and desired outcomes.
Understanding how what you are doing fits into the overall project rather than just looking at areas such as budget, schedule, risk, or issues helps you put your project in context and operate more effectively.
Here’s a short anecdote: in 2021, brand new cars have an enormous dashboard with a myriad of features.
Nevertheless, you only need six features to drive that car, such as the fuel gauge, lights, speedometer, windscreen wipers, pedals, and gear lever.
Projects are like that in many cases – People over-engineer them, but the ability to deliver a successful project still comes down to the six key points listed in this post.
So, if your project is troubled, you need to metaphorically stop it and identify the trouble’s root causes, as it probably comes down to a basic issue that now is making the project fall through.
You only need a few key ingredients for project success (just like when you bake a cake). If you follow the recipe, you’ll get the desired outcomes.
If you your project has gone off track or want your project to have a greater chance of success, do not hesitate to contact us or schedule a session to demonstrate the benefits we can provide to your organisation. Focus HQ would be glad to provide you with the tools, methodology and intuitive knowledge to significantly reduce risk and increase performance for all your projects.