man sitting on bus, with head down

There can be many reasons for project failure. Here is a list of things that need considered when planning projects, for the sake of a smooth, efficient project.

Of course, surprises will temporarily derail everyone’s sense of calm and purpose (think Covid-19, which landed in our consciousness in the UK around March 2020!). But, even disasters must be preempted and processes documented.

Roles are Not Clearly Distinguished

“I didn’t know that [someone] had to be kept informed.”

Project member

It’s a common occurrence in teams where there are no written project procedures. We’ve just updated a series of procedures for a client. Nothing was changed, but, we noticed a few gaps where it was simply assumed that everyone know what to do next. Writing it all down meant there was little room left for confusion.

  • Who’s in charge? Where does the buck stop? This person need not be a SME. Indeed, in technical matters they may very well defer to the more technical person. But they must have the authority to make informed decisions.
  • Who assigns tasks and tracks their progress? (This need not be the same as the person who’s in charge, above. You could assign a non-technical project administrator. But, it must be someone who’s organised.) Are any relevant dependencies and priorities clearly defined?
  • Who does the actual day to day work of starting and completing tasks? For which parts are they responsible? Who do they go to if they’re stuck, or discover something else that needs further input? What happens if they’re off unexpectedly?
  • Who reviews, approves or marks tasks as complete?
  • What happens during or after the project is delivered? Who, outside the project team, needs kept informed both during and after?
  • If the project does not get delivered on time, what are the implications? Does the project plan have a built-in, written process for in deprioritising some tasks, to enable it to be completed quicker or partially?

Procedures are Not Written Down

This is what happens when procedures are not written down:

  • No-one knows who’s in charge, who’s responsible for tasks, who’s taking care of the admin, or who’s signing things off – including, crucially all the many processes involved. Chaos ensures!
  • The more organised may write their own, and keep a copy of this in their private drive. You can bet on it. This means there may be 4-5 versions of the procedures. Guess what happens when a new person joins the team? They ask for a copy of the documentation and are sent multiple versions. More confusion!
  • Mavericks on the team will ignore spoken plans and procedures and cause more work for others, who will discover their activities only by accident, then begin the laborious, and costly, process of documenting them, fixing mistakes or redoing the work entirely. A short, sharp nip at the beginning will help curtail the chaos they cause. Such people are great for brainstorming, working as lone wolves. But, they may be better not on teams, which must operate collaboratively by default.
  • The new starts begin to wilt. Have pity on the new starts!
  • And, finally, take thought for those assigned the onerous task of completing documentation around ISO and other regulations. They must make sure all processes are documented. Clients describe it like this: what do we need to know about our process if you were knocked down by a bus. The answer is: everything!

Write it down. A good editor can always come behind you and remove anything that seems a little too ‘extra’.

The Team’s Suggestions Are Never Incorporated

One of the best things you can do is to get the team on your side.

Their suggestions need not be earth-shattering, just practical or sensible ideas. Include them where possible. Something as simple as adding another field to Asana, to allow the team to filter better, or having a planning meeting that includes Sales, may really help some team members.

  • Ask for their input
  • Take it seriously
  • Give them credit for their suggestions
  • Implement as much of it as you can

In my experience, this one tactic will induce the much sought after loyalty from the start.

Communication is Unscheduled or Inconsistent

The best project managers have regular communication built into their project management processes. I’d suggest that you, initially, communicate too much. It’s better to have senior management ping you on Slack with ‘OK, enough already with the status updates! than… ‘Hey, that project you’re working on, you’re going in the wrong direction.‘.

Communicate the Basics

  • Who’s doing the various parts of tasks in the project
  • What they’re doing: managing, task completion, review admin
  • When individual tasks, groups of tasks and projects within projects need completed
  • Why it’s important, how this project feeds into others and the overall success of the organisation

Communicate Regularly

  • Regular, brief stand-ups (a couple of times a week)
  • A weekly team huddle for a brief summary of what everyone’s planning to work on or has worked on that week
  • Phone calls when things go wrong
  • Longer team Zoom calls
  • Include those outside the project team, sometimes (where relevant)

Even if you have to get back to someone to tell them your part of the project is not ready, communicate!

I hope these communication basics help you avoid project failure. What did you think? Do you already use some of them?

Photo by Lily Banse on Unsplash