7 Ways to Make Your Project Fail and 7 Ways to Prevent That

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Oct 11, 2018

Wonder why some projects fail while others are successful? Like the 7 deadly sins, this article from Toleo Solutions lists 7 of the most common ways to ensure a project fail — and they all come down to people and managers. Read on to learn what you can do to encourage your team and improve your chance of success.


1. Don’t give a damn about your people

For people to feel they can do their best, they need to feel leaders have their back. Don’t micromanage. Support your people. Don’t throw them under the bus should something not go exactly as planned. Don’t box people in or discourage new ways of doing things. Don’t steal credit for good ideas when credit isn’t yours.

Build trust, don’t break it. Employees need to feel safe and supported to encourage innovation. Your people are your biggest asset. Not supporting your people, not making them feel like they can bring their full selves to work or ignoring their concerns, skill set, expectations and desire to be challenged are surefire ways to lead to project failures. If you give a damn about your people your people will be more inclined to give a damn about success.

People service your customers, solve problems, and help drive innovation. Happy people → happy customers = increased growth. That’s achieving success through people!

Leaders: The success of your project depends on the engagement and commitment of your people. Listen– no, seriously, just learn to listen! Ask questions for clarity and take time to build trust. Your people can accomplish many things if they are taken seriously, listened to, and given some support when needed. Many things may bring employees through the front door, but bad leaders and bad work environments drive them out. Support your employees and they will support you.

Tip for success: Build a highly engaged and committed workforce. Let employees know they and their ideas are valued and provide a culture where their voices can be heard, their skill set is utilized, and they feel supported. Creating this type of environment increases employee engagement and reduces employee turnover.

It is your people who measure the progress of the project and steer its direction. It is your people that ultimately deliver the products or services to customers. It is your people and their capabilities, individually and collectively, who make a project a success. Organizations can’t exist without people. People make the difference in every business and project – and supported and happy people make the biggest difference.

2. Avoid instead of mitigate

If you want your project to fail, then avoid instead of mitigating risks. I always found it interesting that many project management and risk management tools have the option to “avoid” a risk that exists. Sure, some risks can be avoided, however not all. A mitigation strategy should exist for risks. Avoiding is somewhat like ignoring in hopes the risk will just go away or no one else will notice – especially the client.

Leaders, take some accountability. Even if you think risks can be avoided, a plan B should exist for when they arise and smack you in the face. Risks, issues, dependencies, and impediments arise in most projects. Resolution often requires interaction with stakeholders and customers, and in some cases, with leadership (executive sponsors.)

Tip for success: Open communication, transparency, and collaboration are imperative to risk mitigation and project success. Build a tight, yet lean, governance structure. Include clearly defined processes for prioritization and resolution to any changes or problems that could derail your efforts and implement a supporting communication structure. Include points of contact from all impacted stakeholder groups and sponsors who are visible and accountable. Avoidance may work if you’re trying to eat healthily; however, it’s not a strategy for most risks impacting project success.

3. Ignore feedback

This one drive me nuts as I’ve seen this time and time again. Project leadership claims to want feedback, but only if it’s positive feedback. Any feedback that project or client leadership may view as negative, even if it can lead to improvement, is selectively ignored. When stakeholders provide feedback it means they are engaged. One of the quickest ways to kill that engagement, and support for the project, is to ignore their voice and bury their concerns. Same goes for team members.

Tip for success: Giving and receiving feedback is imperative to effective communication and high team performance – it’s a cycle. There are plenty of what ifs when it comes to giving and receiving feedback. The reality is that you’re holding yourself and the project back if you’re not doing either. Requesting feedback directly from the client is also beneficial to managing project expectations. Feedback for continuous improvement should not just be provided downward, but, upward and lateral as well.

4. Don’t see the big picture

Let’s face it, we live in a time of rapid organizational change. Most organizations have multiple projects and programs occurring simultaneously. Some pay more attention to the implications of one project to another than do others. If you want your project to fail, then live in a bubble and assume your project is the only priority. And don’t bother making sure your project and deliverables link back and support the larger organizational vision and strategy. Don’t concern yourself with aligning with other projects deliverables and communicating with leadership and teams from other projects. If you want your project to succeed, do the opposite.

Tip for success: Before you develop a strategy and direction, collect data from internal and external sources – including other project teams and customers. You need to understand – not guess or assume – what other projects are trying to achieve and why. Then you need to make a plan and execute to maintain open and transparent communication with other project teams, ensuring alignment with their project deliverables and timelines.

5. Timeline over quality

Only 29% of IT projects are successful. Sure, we all want our projects to come in, at, or under cost and schedule; however, if you sacrifice quality or expectations to achieve those goals, then your project may not be a success. It is imperative to take this into account during the design and planning phase. Changes can push the timeline. And the timeline is the most important thing, right? Wrong. I’ve seen this happen time and time again. Quality gets sacrificed for time. Functionality gets sacrificed for time. Team members end up feeling rushed and burnt out. And stakeholders end up pissed off about the reduced engagement and adoption.

Tip for success: Consider all the possible variables and internal and external environmental and cultural factors. Build a reasonable contingency and cushion into your project plan. Consider a sound framework for managing your projects and dependencies. I’m a big fan of Agile as a project management approach. Also, if you really want to deliver quality on time, be sure to account for change management (the people kind not just the technology kind) and develop and implement a clear communications strategy. Develop and leverage your governance structure for decision making. Make sure those participating as part of project governance provide support to manage the people, process, and technology changes caused as a result of the project or program.

6. Failure to communicate

If you want your project to fail, then don’t communicate enough or at all. Don’t perform an audience segmentation and segment your messaging by stakeholder group. Don’t develop a clear and executable communications strategy and plan. Don’t have a designated communications resource on the project team. If you want to succeed, do the opposite. To achieve success, frequent, transparent, and authentic communication amongst leadership, employees, stakeholders, and customers is a necessity. Don’t just communicate during times of change or during project milestones; communicate all the time: up, down and laterally.

Tip for success: Cater your communications for your various audience groups. Communicate strategically, not just tactically. Communicate and craft your messaging to drive engagement, and if your project requires adoption. Be open and honest in your messaging to stakeholders. Offer them the opportunity to provide feedback. Adapt your communications content, vehicles, and frequencies as needed. You can’t communicate too much with your team or to impacted stakeholders. If people do feel overloaded with communications, they can always choose to ignore some at their own risk and discretion. Communication builds trust. Trust increases performance, team performance, and project performance.

7. Transparency is a foreign concept

I have seen leaders withhold or manipulate information both to team members and the client. It’s never a good thing; the truth always comes out in the end. In most cases, people already know the information or the situation anyway. Not being transparent only helps to kick up the rumor mill, breach trust, and negatively impact project commitment and engagement. Accountability. Transparency. Authenticity. Compassion. Respect. Trust. These things matter – a lot.

Tip for success: If you want your project to succeed, be open, honest, and transparent about what’s happening. Share changes to the strategy or deliverables. Share risks and mitigation strategies. Transparency is an art worth mastering for success (unless perhaps if you’re a politician) in leadership and in life. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. Do what you say. Follow through is imperative for success. Not following through in a timely manner sets a level of distrust, not to mention pushes back timelines and contributes to increased project costs and decreased performance from stakeholders. People notice. Be helpful, don’t be a hurdle. Provide constructive feedback. Give team members the info they need to succeed. Don’t let them feel blindsided or feel stupid. Be congruent. If you say something, mean it. If you promise something, deliver.

Don’t let your project fail

In conclusion, all of these things have negative impacts on your team and your stakeholders. If you want your project to fail, ignore the voices of your people and bury their concerns. If you want your project to fail, avoid risk even when you know it exists. If you want your project to fail, don’t bother requesting and giving feedback and taking action for improvement. If you want your project to fail, ignore all other organizational changes occurring and possible implications to your project. If you want your project to fail, stick firm to your timeline even if meeting it has negative impacts on the user experience and quality of deliverables.  If you want your project to fail, forget about frequent and personalized communication. If you want your project to fail, work in a shroud of secrecy.

This article was originally published in the Tolero Solutions Think Tank.