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Why Do Projects Fail

Project Managers are working too hard to get such dismal results. Last year only 38% of all projects met original goals and business intent and only 53% were completed within budget, according to PMI’s 2016 Pulse of the Profession study (and these numbers are down from last year!). PMI sights a lack of leadership, strategy alignment and technical project management skills as the root cause of the problems. Intuitively, I agree but experience tells me it’s something more.

I’ve managed a wide range of projects for over 25 years. I’ve had a great track record, but when projects have failed, they have generally failed for the same reason - Complexity.

Too often organizations attempt to solve all of their problems with a single project. The projects are too ambitious with too many moving parts. Communications become extremely hard to manage with too many responsible parties and too few accountable. There are too many dependencies, relationships and competing objectives to fully understand or manage. And the project management tools mirror this complexity providing a false sense that everything is under control.

I understand some projects are very complex. A moon shot requires complex and demanding project management skills. But, for most business situations, this level of complexity is just not necessary.

I’ve come to realize that project management success comes through simplicity. My partners and I have abandoned many of the old project management principles to adopt a new philosophy called the “Make It” approach: Make it Simple, Make it Clear, Make it Real, Make it Happen, Make it Stick.

  • Make it Simple – Keep the project scope simple and achievable within a short time frame. Many small successful projects are better than one large failed attempt.

  • Make it Clear – The outcomes for the project should be easily communicated. If you can’t do it in one sentence, you have a problem

  • Make it Real – Rapid prototyping is essential to going forward. If you are going to fail, fail fast before you commit resources to a greater effort.

  • Make it Happen – Move quickly and attempt to get results in 90 days or less. Time kills projects.

  • Make it Stick – Build in real-time measurement/feedback to assure the desired outcomes are achieved and sustained.

But, it all comes down to the core concept; simplify, simplify, simplify. Many, small successes are much more valuable to an organization than a few failed and expensive adventures.

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