Category: Project management

Project Failure: How to Avoid Top Causes

January 16th, 2014
LMA Consulting Group Project Management

Communication is vital to project management success. Are you looking for different methods to make certain your messages is getting across?

So much of an organization’s success is tied to project success!  Can you think of any significant organization initiative or improvement that didn’t tie to at least one project?  I’ve worked with many organizations, across diverse industries and globally, and I cannot think of a single example.  Therefore, what could be more important than figuring out how to ensure project success?

I did a quick survey of clients and business contacts to find the top three causes of project failure. If we address these, we’ll greatly increase our chances of success. The survey identified the following as the three most common stumbling blocks on the path to project success:

1. Lack of a Clearly Designated Project Leader:  It’s amazing how many times this seemingly simple issue arises.  There are many reasons:  The project team is a group of peers and no one is assigned or assumes leadership.  No one wants to assign a project leader because everyone already has a full-time job and is swamped (especially in today’s business environment!). Each department assumes the other department will lead the project.

However, there is nothing more important to project success than the project leader.  There are countless reasons. A few of the most vital include: the project leader must clearly articulate the project’s goals.  The project leader must facilitate the development of the project plan with clearly designated tasks, milestones and accountabilities. The project leader must proactively address roadblocks and ensure the team completes the tasks on time and within budget.  Finally, the project leader must communicate progress to the appropriate parties.

Undoubtedly, your project will derail without a clear project leader!

2. Lack of Clear Expectations and Goals:  Following on the heels of no clearly designated project leader is no clear expectations and goals.  Even the best project leader cannot succeed without clear expectations and goals.  What is the objective of the project?  Why is the objective important to the organization?  How does each project team member add value to achieving the goal?  Is the goal clear?  Is the timing understood?

For example, for one client, the end goal was clear (inventory reduction); however, the project team didn’t have clear expectations and goals at first.  Thus, the branches had no incentive to share inventory figures, which was a main component in reducing inventory. As a result, progress was largely at a standstill until the project objectives and metrics were clarified.

3. Communication Challenges:  Communication challenges are common yet can deter even the best projects.  Even in the best of circumstances, it is easy to suffer from miscommunication and confusion.  Did you play the game of telephone as a young child?  Just in case you haven’t, I’ll explain – the game starts with a person who communicates a message to the next person.  And it continues until the message has gone around to the last person in the circle.  By the time it gets to the last person, it never resembles the original message!  Thus, it can be a lot of fun to hear the mixed up messages your friends come up with after 10 to 20 interchanges.  And this is when each person is trying to convey the correct message.  So, imagine what occurs when organizational confusion and politics get involved.

Aside from typical communication issues, there is also a plethora of other communication challenges, ranging from cultural and language communication barriers to functional communication barriers (such as sales people communicating with technicians and finance folks talking with R&D).  These can pose a serious roadblock.  For example, I’ve worked with many project teams containing numerous team members where English was a second language.  Typically there have been two or three different primary languages.  Even with an excellent project leader it can be complex to ensure that communication is clear and that everyone on the team is aligned with the path forward.  Otherwise, it can be easy to run around in circles – even well-intentioned ones.It is vital to communicate, communicate, and communicate.  I’ve found that you have to repeat important project communications multiple times.  Try saying it in different ways.  Try different communication vehicles.  Ask team members for their understanding.  Send reminders.  Follow-up.  Never stop communicating.

According to my clients, if you can mitigate these three most significant causes of project failure, you’ll be one of the few to succeed – on-time, on-budget, and on-expectation.  Why not become the organization to “get it right” – and pass your competition by accelerating project results?

Want to read more about Project Management?  Read our other posts.

What’s the Secret Ingredient to Project Success?

June 20th, 2013

Turn your thinking upside down and unlock the secret ingredient to success.

Volatility is the new norm.  Results must be an assumption as companies struggle for high growth rates, fight to find and retain top talent and find that execution alone is no longer enough to succeed in the new normal business environment.   In order to stand out in the crowd and succeed, we must think differently.

Instead of looking at the latest and greatest fads and expensive programs, why not turn your thinking upside down and consider a simple yet effective approach to success?  The power of focus!  What could focus do for your projects?

In my experience, regardless of company type, size, industry, and reach (local, national, global), the 80/20 of client project success – improved bottom line results – relates directly to focus. Undoubtedly, when we start the client project, it seems much more complex; however, I’ve yet to find an example where a key driver to success doesn’t substantially fall into the category of focus. So, why does focus matter? The main reasons include: 1) Strategic clarity. 2) Practical application. 3) Motivation.

  1. Strategic clarity. First, a baseline tenet – the most successful companies understand where they are going. Thus, it is vital to consider the top priorities to ensure progress towards that vision. The best companies not only understand where they are going but they also achieve a strategic clarity throughout the organization by aligning focus with the direction.

    Ideally, the Executives have a solid handle on the key aspects of the long-term roadmap to achieve the vision. Although that used to be a 3-5 year plan, long-term has become 12-24 months in the new normal business environment.  Then, on a yearly or every 6 month basis, the top priorities should emerge. I’ve noticed that this topic can become a circular conversation, as strategic clarity leads to the top priorities – and focus on the top priorities leads to strategic clarity throughout the organization. However, the key point is that the organization will excel through the power of focus which typically manifests itself in clearly communicated key priorities.

    In the words of one of the best financial leaders I’ve worked with throughout the years when asked her opinion of the key to success of the CEO who not only turned around the company while valuing people but also completed a successful sale of the company, she said, “he refused to veer off the strategy and kept the organization focused”.

  1. Practical application. No company can be successful when it divides its resources (people, capital/ cash, etc.) among too many initiatives. Focusing on the right critical issues – no more than 3 to 5 in most cases – is vital to achieving success.

    How many times has it felt as though you have 100 priorities (and directions) to achieve at the same time? In today’s business environment, 100 priorities could be a good day! As tempting as it is to try to achieve what all seem like important priorities, stop. Instead, take a step back and go through a rigorous prioritization process.

    Which of the priorities are most important and will have the greatest impact on achieving the strategy during the next year? Consider breaking it into quarters. A steadfast focus on a select few priorities will move the organization forward at a much quicker pace than working twice as hard on a hundred priorities.

  1. Motivation. Help your organization translate the top priorities into succinct goals. Do not get sidetracked with those which you know how to achieve, those which are easy to achieve or those which are more interesting to achieve at the expense of those which will accelerate progress towards the strategy. In a word, “focus”.

    Make sure everyone understands the value to the organization of achieving their goals. Make sure the goals are achievable yet require a stretch for the employee. Accelerate the pace of progress with an unrelenting focus. There is nothing that motivates an employee more than clear goals, which are not only valued by the leaders but will also contribute to the company’s strategy and success. A leader’s focus and appreciation translate into happy employees and bottom line results.

I’ve seen projects ranging from a 50% reduction in inventory levels to a launch of a new product line achieve the intended results largely through focus. In today’s too much cash with the concern of what tomorrow might bring, finding a recipe for success that doesn’t require a capital or cash investment is undoubtedly worth pursuing. Which projects can you successfully achieve through focus alone?


This article also published on Project Times.

Spicen up your Project Management

February 22nd, 2012

It’s clear that project management isn’t the most exciting topic around executive roundtables and Board meetings yet it can make or break almost any critical corporate objective. Often, I hear, “Leave it to the project teams to implement”. Although that makes sense, it doesn’t receive nearly the interest as implementing a “new program” such as lean or scorecarding or whatever is perceived as the latest and greatest “fix” to all ailments. Thus, the project teams drudge along but don’t have the same level of recognition and passion for accelerating progress and delivering results.

A partial answer to this dilemma is to promote your project. Generate the interest. It’s amazing what can be achieved through executive interest and enthusiasm alone. I’ve written an article on how to promote and market a project to ensure success. Read a few tips here.

Are You Undervaluing Your Project Leaders?

October 11th, 2011

As I just spoke on the “Secrets of Project Leadership Success in the New Normal” at ProjectWorld / BusinessAnalystWorld in Vancouver and had some fascinating discussions with other speakers and participants, it got me thinking about how often excpetion project managers are undervalued.

As it’s clear that those companies who achieve bottom line business results are those who value these resources, why do so many companies choose the less successful route? As I said in my speech, if there was a subject that went across organizational boundaries that could impact the bottom line, it would be project management. How do we take advantage of good ideas? Project management. How do we thrive in the new normal? Project management. Whether we realize it or not, those leaders who “get things done” typically are exceptional project managers and leaders. I’ll take a so-so idea with an excellent project leader anyday over a fabulous idea with a so-so project leader.

Take a step back and assess whether your organization has any exceptional project leaders? You might be surprised – who brings up future roadblocks and obstacles frequently with ideas/ recommendations to overcome them? They might even be considered annoying as it’s an “easier” day if no issues are constantly arising. Who has people following them regardless of their position title? Who ruffles a few features as no exceptional leader will stand by and let a non-performer go unaddressed on his/ her project team?

If you’re interested in reading more about successes, failures and case studies about project leadership, there are many articles on my Articles & Publications webpage under the category of Project Management – click here and/or I have a few years worth of monthly columns on the Project Times website – click here

Case Study of a Project Failure

March 30th, 2011

Please check out and comment on my latest Project Times article, “Case Study of a Project Failure”. I utilized a case study of an project to integrate companies which was challenged to say the least and discussed three key take-aways of lessons learned from project failure:

1. Too many chiefs and no Indians.

2. Lost critical knowledge base.

3. Forgot to ask questions.

Please read, tweet, comment etc. FYI, there is a place to comment at the end of the article on Project Times – link to the article.