Project failure and NOW to avoid it

The title is a mistype, but I like it – urgency is often missing in projects, and we all know the sooner you tackle a problem, the sooner it’s resolved and the less it costs. 

Most enterprises recognise the value of standard processes, techniques and methods and the need for ‘people skilled in people’ – relationships, communication and leadership.  Pelicam have previously demonstrated that these two “dimensions” (hard and soft) don’t include all the elements necessary to guarantee success.  Why is that? Two reasons:

1.) Because no two projects are the same – why? 

  • the context (where we operate - the environment, the organisation, the politics); and
  • the content - complexity, design, products. 

2.) How to ensure the right things are done well - the granularity, precision, accuracy and focused decision making that is required?

We are always asked: “what makes a good project manager?”  Yes there’s the normal stuff about intelligence, energy, people skills – but the significant competency is the ability to decide what to focus on – what needs to get done, what problem needs to be resolved,what problem can be ignored? 

project intelligence


Pelicam call this third dimension ‘Project Intelligence’.  It’s a combination of skill, instinct, technique and experience.

We’ve consolidated findings of 50 recent project intelligent reviews – scaling from £2m to £500m - across a number of industries – and it’s produced FIVE learning points.

ONE – previous surveys (e.g. MIT, Standish, MCA) highlight a very poor delivery record.  Our findings give useful granularity as to why projects are failing; and contrasts with prior research.

TWO - Projects scored 50% against best practice.  Why so low? Because by definition, best practice must take into account every situation and permutation; and projects are not designed that way. Our hypothesis remains –best practice is not a helpful measure.

THREE - Projects reviewed early in the life cycle are more likely to be successful. Conversely, projects reviewed late in late stages (test/ implementation) are often ‘too far gone’ and beyond help. 

FOUR – High incidence of Critical/Red/Black/Toxic issues (there’s only so many ways of saying these are really, really important):

  • Serial killers: dependencies not mapped, dis-engaged stakeholders, poor business case, flawed governance, poor planning, unclear quality, lack of testing quality, risk/issue/change ignored (all occur in more than 66% of projects).
  • Persistent offenders: suppliers, people and relationships, existing systems, complexity, solution definition (in 39-53% of projects).
  • Aggravating theft:  corporate alignment, technology alignment, communications, and cost management (in 11-26% of projects).

FIVE – Every organisation has common failure points.  Review 3 to 5 projects and the same issues will occur. Find and fix these issues across the organisation and you can fix all your projects.


In summary:

Project Intelligence is not well understood in ‘project world’ but needs to be embraced and learnedEach organisation has its own serial killers – they should be locked up


Posted on May 1, 2014 .