jim@millikenproject.com

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Why Projects Fail

Every time I do any group training for Project Management, I give the participants the opportunity to brainstorm what actions or omissions can damage a Project, and what actions best ensure success. In hundreds of instances, it has almost never failed that PLANNING comes out a runaway winner -- poor planning in the failures, good planning in the winners.
Then we talk about people's actual experiences in Projects. It also very unusual if most of the group doesn't report that planning, when it occurs at all, is slipshod. Any plan that results is dismissed or ignored.
OK. There you have it. Failure of planning is the root of Project problems. Plan, and your problems evaporate.
Well, no. In Project Management, as in life. smelling out the neighborhood of the problem is only a nonfunctional first step toward actually doing something to counter it.

The second step is harder. That is the one where you examine a failed planning process to determine what was missing, either totally or in part. And here, almost invariably, you will lay bare the real reason Project planning is so often poor.
The reason? People. The Project Team Members and other Stakeholders are human, and that's what causes all the difficulties.
First of all, the "human resource" in Project Management is the catalytic resource, the one that puts all the other resources (money, materials, equipment, etc.) to work. If the people of the Project are not informed, competent, committed and productive, nothing will work.
Second, typical planning avoids the realities of people's behavior in Projects. Most planners have been burned, bombed and blown out by individual and group nonperformance in Projects, for a variety of reasons. Out of that experience, they have determined that people won't do what they say they're going to do, even if you can get them to agree to something.

That's how people are when you plunk them into a situation of extra work, in the company of unfamiliar co-workers, where there is pressure, uncertainty and risk. If you have concluded that nothing can be done about this fundamental matter, then Project predictability is a mirage.
So, you may do a plan, because you're expected to. Or you may NOT do a plan, because everyone knows they don't work. Either way, you have contributed to the tradition that Projects always go over budget and schedule, while falling short of expectations.
Hollow Project Management. All because the managers fail to recognize that the human animal in the Project situation needs a plan that accounts for the people realities at least as much as it counts the beans.
Projects that work are planned and executed by those who engage reality with courage, wisdom and skill. We call them "leaders."

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