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Between a rock and a hard place

I’ve been doing some research into why projects fail for a TV programme (more on this later – we are filming in May) and it seems that the unsuccessful project is unfortunately much more common than we would all like to believe.

However, there is also a perception problem. I’ve been interviewed recently about the way the media presents projects as failing because, as any journalist will tell you, interviewing talking heads about what a monstrosity the Scottish Parliament building is, how it cost 10 times the original budget and was delivered late makes a much more interesting story than the fact it won the Stirling Prize for Architecture.

So what is a failed project? It all depends upon the success criteria and tolerances you set at the beginning of the project. I once delivered a project four months late but on budget and to the required scope. No one was that bothered about the time delay as it wasn’t a critical success criterion, so did the project ‘fail’? You will need to agree the success criteria for your project, with your sponsor and your team.

The perception problem normally comes from outside the project team and it is there that you will have to concentrate your efforts to explain to people why your project was 50% overspent and no one cares. This might happen if you are working, for example, on a health and safety project where money is no object: you just need to resolve the problem to make sure everyone is safe.

Communication is the thing I believe contributes towards a successful project, and the thing that can turnaround perceptions of a failing project. Of course, some projects really do fail, by any interpretation of the word, and you’ve got your work cut out then to turn around public opinion!

I’ll return to the subject of failing projects and what you can do about them another time, once I’ve sorted out my research findings and can share them with you.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin is a Fellow of the Association for Project Management in the UK and the award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.

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