Why projects fail?

Corporate Exit Strategist for Blooming Entrepreneurs

I received the following question with the below premise.

Here are the stereotypes:

  • Business thinks IT is a socially awkward group with zero business savvy.
  • IT, meanwhile, is amazed when business execs can successfully open a browser.

So many projects depend on IT and business alignment, and so many fail because that alignment is often like a Platonic ideal unrealizable in the real world.  The question is:

  • why projects fail,
  • who’s to blame,
  • and how to fix the problem.

This is an interesting topic, because there are many contributing factor that leads to an unsuccessful project.  If it’s a small enough project, you may be able to pinpoint a specific area or reason.  But even then,  it’s not really that specific item or event but how we respond to that specific item that often causes the breakdown.

But in all cases, I think it’s safe to say that  “who’s to blame” is the person in search for someone to blame.

The act of “finger pointing” is the breakdown.  Individuals are no longer working as a team to contribute collectively to the shared vision or goal.  “Finger pointing” is actually a great tool to indicate something is amiss.  Good leaders use these as early indicators to re-evaluate and take action.  Good leaders use this time to re-emphasize the common goal, the vision, and the team’s success criteria. Good leaders can easily articulate individual roles in supporting and accomplishing that shared vision – and bring the group back on goal.

Good leaders aren’t necessarily the biz executives or managers.  They are not defined by titles.  Good leaders are those with good leadership qualities that lead from within.  Any person, at any level, can provide this service (and good leadership is a service).

Projects often “fail” because we simply fail to clearly articulate the vision and the project’s “success criteria”.  And we don’t successfully communicate it to each stakeholder and team member.  Successfully communicating the vision and success criteria is a 2-way street.  Leaders need to verify that the message not only is received, but is translated to “what it means to me” to each role, task and stakeholder.

How to fix this is as difficult as finding what to fix.  Clearly communicating the project’s vision, mission and success criteria is a great start.  Having each member of the team paraphrase and articulate that same message ( but specifically associating it with their role and responsibilities in the project) will assure the crew is rowing in the same direction, and at the same pace.  Having each member understand the other team-members role (in regards to the success criteria and vision)  will increase appreciation for each other.  Often times partnering or shadowing to solve a shared issue on the project helps.

The acknowledgement that the product isn’t completed until all the parts are done successfully also helps to align the team around the team goals.  Therefore, the quickest way to fix the communication issue is to avoid assuming it’s someone else’s job to fix it.  We can all work toward understanding and articulating the project goals, vision, and success criteria.  We can all work toward appreciating what our co-workers bring to the table to support the mission.  If we don’t know the mission or success criteria, we’ve absolutely found the problem.  Then it’s our job to ask, and go on from there.

I find that the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (by Dr. Stephen Covey) is a great tool to turn a project around.  The two most effective habits for project management could actually be: Especially “Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind” and  “Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, then to be understood”

I actually have a presentation “7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Managers”.  If you would like a copy, please contact [email protected]


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