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Addressing Common Problems with Projects

A recent failure of a 60$M telecom project invites the question of why?  The answer:  poor leadership.

But this answer is too general.  It doesn’t really help us understand what we can do as project leaders to increase the likelihood our projects are successful.

If we consider problems found to be common to projects we might find ways to proactively address those problems before trouble begins to surface: 

  • The project objectives and scope are unclear
  • Estimates for time and cost goals are unreliable or unrealistic
  • Changing business needs or technology impact the project
  • People working on the project are incompetent or unmotivated
  • There are poor conflict-management procedures
  • Communications are poor
  • Suppliers are not delivering as promised
  • The project sponsor or senior managers are not very supportive of the project
  • The project manager is inexperienced in managing people, working in a particular organization, or understanding the application area of the project
  • Key stakeholders, such as customers who would use the product of the project  and services the project is attempting to create, are not sufficiently involved in project decision-making

To address these it’s helpful to group them into actionable areas that apply to you and your project.

In doing this let’s keep in mind there is a high correlation between project success and project manager competency.  I know, it seems an obvious statement but it is important to distinguish between a project manager’s strengths and the challenges presented by the environment of the project he or she is managing. 

First, consider your project environment and identify what is in and what is out of your direct control as a project manager.  Just because something is out of your direct line of control doesn’t mean you are not responsible for it.  You’ll still be able to influence it.  You’ll need to be creative and draw on your support network to affect outcomes in these areas.

Second, your competencies as a project manager can be viewed in terms of technical abilities (e.g. scheduling, estimating, earned value analysis) and management strengths (e.g. visioning, facilitation, motivation).  Looking at how your hard and soft skills might contribute to these problems is a first step to identifying what you might do about it.

This analysis might help you hire a project coordinator with the right technical skills to complement your own.  If the organizational structure keeps you at arm’s length from vendors you might engage your procurement organization to establish specific supplier controls early on.  You can then influence vendor outcomes indirectly in an oversight capacity and by monitoring progress.

Of course good practice is to do a lessons learned on failed projects.  The problem with this is it’s too late.  The project has already failed.  There’s a need to be proactive and take action early, perhaps before the project starts, to mitigate the risks of project failure.

As a final note, it’s coming up to nearly two years now that I’ve been writing this Project Times blog.  This will be my last for now.  I continue to participate on the ISO committee to develop the new international Project Management standard, ISO 21500 and to teach project management on a part time basis at Humber College.  You can reach me at [email protected] and I’d welcome the opportunity to discuss any project issue you may have.

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