Do you believe your project will fail?

There is so much in the news around project failure that sometimes it feels as if all projects are in danger from the start.
A study from software development firm Geneca supports this view – unfortunately. I say ‘unfortunately’ because it’s a commonly held belief that all projects fail and I think that if you set out believing that, you will have less chance of achieving your goals than if you set out on your project journey believing that you can do it.
The executives interviewed by Geneca don’t share my optimism. Three quarters of them feel that their projects are always or usually “doomed right from the start.” There is a distinct lack of confidence in project success.

Why do people believe in failure?
So why do teams continue to struggle, both in actually making projects a success and in getting others to believe that they could be, given the right resources.
The survey highlights several areas which contribute to the perception of inevitable project failure:

Unclear objectives. 45% reported that the business objectives for their project were unclear. If you don’t know what it is you are supposed to be doing then it’s pretty hard to decide if you’ve been a success.
Lack of clarity around ‘done’. Over three quarters of people said that there was confusion about when a project was done. Without defining success criteria and a list of criteria that mark the end of a project, how can you decide if it has successfully been completed? Only 23% reported that there was always agreement about when to close a project.
Poor business involvement. Inconsistent or confusing business involvement means that 78% of respondents reported that the project’s objectives usually or always didn’t reflect business needs. There was general agreement that business stakeholders need to be adequately involved in requirements elicitation and management.
“Unfortunately, poor requirements definition practices have become so common that they’re almost tolerated,” said Geneca President & CEO, Joel Basgall. And that’s despite the known correlation between good requirements practices and project success.

How to put that right
The key, according to a Gartner study into project failure, is not to be complacent. The experts there recommend that project managers take steps to apply situational knowledge to the project. That means applying the right mix of processes, team members, and skills to the project for the best result, and that can include business people to help define requirements.
That could be anything from making sure the right people are in the room when you come to define requirements, to more workshops, to seconding someone from the relevant team to be the eyes and ears of the business users on the project.
Another tip is to get a professional business analyst on the team. If you are working on a project where the requirements are even the slightest bit unclear and you feel that you are losing the ability to document and manage them, a business analyst will put you right. Leave it to them to get to the bottom of what the users are really talking about and to help both the project team and the business stakeholders understand the impact of the project across all areas.
One of the big easy wins from the Gartner study is the fact that better communication could really help in lots of cases. When projects fail because they don’t deliver something of business value or they deliver too late to be useful, these problems could have been overcome with better communication between the stakeholder groups and the project team.
Finally, be more positive. Mike Nichols challenges people to change the mentality around project failure by focusing on getting things right at the beginning. Project management isn’t rocket science. There are stacks of studies telling us why projects fail, and mostly the reasons are avoidable. Being more positive, changing the mindset of the doubters and doing things properly during project initiation can go a long way to managing project performance towards success rather than failure.

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