In any given project, there are many interrelated and moving parts—tasks, milestones, dependencies, costs, resources, deliverables—that need to be carefully managed. Adding to that, many times a project manager is concurrently managing many different projects, all with different scopes, priorities, resources, and stakeholders.
It's no surprise then that projects run into trouble every day. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things go wrong. While you may know this to be true, when it’s your project and your reputation is on the line, this feeling of potential failure can be overwhelming.
This blog post is an excerpt from our latest Rescue Guide, which was created to help you become a better project manager — one that is aware of potential problems, can identify when a project is at risk, feels comfortable and confident sending out that SOS, and can confidently course-correct, getting projects back on track.
The One Real Reason Projects Fail
According to the Project Management Institute, search the internet and you will find literally thousands of experts, articles, papers, research pieces, and blogs that attempt to answer why projects fail. Miscommunication, unclear objectives, poor estimates, scope creep, lack of resources — the list goes on, and on, and on.
However, the reality is there is only one reason a project fails — poor risk and issue management. The project manager did not identify there was a problem before it was too late. The best and only way to avoid project failure is prevention. If the project is important, the business can course-correct and help the project become successful by adjusting components like budget, resources, or delivery expectations.
Therefore monitoring and reporting on project health is critical to keeping everything on track. When you identify a problem early on, your chance of project success is significantly improved. This is exactly where project managers go wrong.
Here are the often unintentional reasons project managers may not flag a problem early enough:
- They are looking for a solution before they report the problem. Project managers by nature are problem solvers. They may see an issue, and believe they can fix before it escalates. As a result, they wait to report the issue, and sometimes that is too late.
- It’s gradual. Sometimes big problems start as small ones — a small slip each week can compound over time, resulting in significant issues.
- They are not looking far enough out. A project manager needs to have a very good understanding of the critical path, and every dependency that may impact that schedule. A small delay or issue this week may not send a project into red. However, if that slip jeopardizes a task on the critical path a couple weeks out, then you may have a serious problem.
- They are not monitoring the project closely enough. There are many components to a project that need to be tracked separately, such as schedule, scope, budget, and client sentiment. Everything may be going great in most of these areas, however if one slips, then the whole project needs to be considered at risk.
Managing issues is an integral part of project management — not a sign of failure. As a project manager your responsibility is to identify, escalate and resolve issues that come up during project execution.