Avoiding the 3 Major Causes of Project Management Fails by Up-skilling
We’ve all heard of project management disasters. From badly thought out campaigns such as Sony’s Betamax to construction projects fraught with massive overrun like Boston’s “Big Dig”, there is no shortage of examples. Less known, however, are the statistics on exactly how common it is for your every-day project to fail. A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries across various industries, found that only 2.5% of companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.
Of course, every project has risks and not everything can succeed, but every failed project costs money, time and human resources. Some contributing factors such as design flaws are always going to be beyond the control of project managers. Unfortunately, though, some of these failures could have been avoided with more effective project management.
What are the biggest challenges for project managers and how can you up-skill in order to avoid them?
According to research by the Business Journal, you can trace project management failures back to three key areas.
First, there are technical failures. These refer to problems with management techniques, processes or technology. T kinds of systems-based issues can usually be avoided by equipping yourself with the tried-and-true central pillars of project management training. Quality control, budgeting, scheduling and effective critical path analysis are essential skills to ensure the success of a project. Breaking down a project into manageable, measurable components is key, as is planning an effective process for implementation, maintaining clear goals and developing risk management strategies.
Many of these skills can be acquired through a course in project management or via an MBA. The Kaplan Business College MBA in Project Management, for example, covers all technical aspects of project planning from task allocation through to finances, budgeting and life cycle assessment. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for learning through experience and you will learn on the job. Ultimately though, you’re starting at a disadvantage if you don’t learn these practices before you get into the workplace. Some courses also teach you how to effectively use software in project management, an area that continues to grow in importance as technology develops.
The second problem often arises from individual failures. These refer to those issues that happen because of poor leadership or bad relationship management. Lack of role definition from the outset leads to the dreaded scope creep. Poor communication within teams or between teams and other stakeholders is often cited as one of the worst problems to affect a project. But, don’t assume that lots of communication means good communication. Communication that wastes time or results in negative feelings i not a solution. Research demonstrates that positive engagement is just as important for a good project outcome as a sound technical process. Being sensitive to the emotional needs of your team is really important.
Forget you ever heard the term ‘born leader’. Leadership and communication, just like budgeting, are skill sets that you can learn. By exercising your emotional intelligence, practising effective listening and developing confidence, you can train to be a better leader. An effective way of doing this is through group exercises and acting out case study scenarios, a technique commonly practised by business schools.
Lack of role definition from the outset leads to the dreaded scope creep. Poor communication within teams or between teams and other stakeholders is often cited as one of the worst problems to affect a project.
Stakeholder failures are the third type of failure identified by Business Journal. These are often commonly overlooked because it’s not as measurable as a budget. No project can succeed, though, unless all the stakeholders, executives and investors are well and truly on board. Sometimes, you don’t know that your project is missing serious executive buy-in until it’s too late to work on it.
Like leadership, this is an area that relies heavily on an emotional-intelligence skill set. Having an awareness of the personalities you’re dealing with is key to knowing how to get people to take on ownership. Managing the expectations of stakeholders through thorough initial consultation and regular follow-up is also an incredibly important part of this process. Don’t let that intimidate you, though, it’s all achievable with a little thought and commitment.
There’s plenty skills you can learn that will assist you in gaining, and keeping, stakeholder engagement. Brainstorming, organisational analysis, writing checklists and lessons learned, researching historical information and benchmarking are all practices taught at business schools such as Kaplan. Creating a stakeholder breakdown structure or map with common categories of stakeholders can be particularly helpful for identifying the common interests of stakeholders.
Above all, remember to keep learning. Don’t risk a project by being stuck in an idea that might not be working because you’re reluctant to admit that it’s not. It’s never too late to up-skill and avoid those project fails in the future. The economic, regulatory and technological environment is constantly shifting. Project management in 10 years will look different from how it’s practised today. Learning to be a life-long learner is perhaps the most important up-skill of all.