How to deal with unsuccessful projects

Project management

More projects fail than succeed. 44% of all projects were late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions, 24% of all projects were cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used (*).

When a project fails, or is already failing before it is completed, it’s critical that lessons are learnt from the experience, to better avoid project failure in the future. To do this, you should consider project success or failure under four headings: People, Process, Culture, Context.

  • People – what factors relating to the human elements must be influenced to achieve success?
  • Process – what programme and project management infrastructure must be in place for success?
  • Culture – how does the culture of an organisation influence programmes and projects?
  • Context – does the environment in which programmes and projects are being delivered matter? How does this differ between sectors?

One of the most important of these is process. Make sure you have a consistent approach to programme and project management. Ensure that you’re using a recognised project management methodology – for example PRINCE2. Ensure that your people are effectively trained – for example they have a PRINCE2 qualification.

You also need to ensure that your organisation has the right cultural approach to project management. So, consider whether programme and project management is recognised as a dedicated career path, whether the attributes of programme and project managers recognised as professional skills and are people supported to achieve PRINCE2 qualification. Are programmes and projects being undertaken by resources ‘on top of their day jobs’ and do you provide the opportunities to ‘improve’ programme and project management?

The key to achieving consistent project success is adoptinga process – such as PRINCE2 – and using it consistently:

  • Remember that programmes and projects involve people –engage with them rather than attempting to manage them
  • Recognise programme and project management as a professional skill –not everyone has the attributes to be a good programme and/or project manager
  • Understand the organisation’s cultural ‘norms’ and context –operate within these expectations
  • Provide support -from all levels of the organisation
(*) Source: Standish Group, CHAOS summary 2011