Project Management

7 ways to disaster proof your projects

Why wait for a catastrophe to strike your project? Here are seven ways to be pre-emptive and decrease the chances of disaster and stakeholder disappointment.

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While there are many possible barriers to project success, there are some vital ones that may have a significant and detrimental impact. Here are seven considerations that can help guard against project risks.

1: Ensure projects are a strategic fit

Strategic fit is increasingly becoming a top focus as organizations around the world are reckoning with the impact of sunk costs, lost time and resources, and opportunity as a result of disjointed projects. In their report The High Cost of Low Performance, PMI estimates "...only 56 percent of strategic initiatives meet their original goals and business intent." Furthermore "...lack of alignment of projects to organizational strategy most likely contributes to the surprising result that nearly one-half of strategic initiatives (44 percent) are reported as unsuccessful."

An inordinate number of projects today are still executed without sufficient concerted effort and focus placed on why specific projects are initiated in the first place. Further, once projects have been initiated, insufficient vetting occurs to ensure key fundamentals have not shifted. Omitting these steps greatly increases the chance of failure.

Managers must continually ask the questions "Why is this project necessary?" and "How does this project tactically support company-wide business goals?" The answers to these questions should be clearly traceable back to corporate objectives. If key fundamentals have changed, project efforts that do not adequately support future direction should be modified appropriately or cease altogether.

2: Gain full executive buy-in and backing

Organizations that foster a pro-project culture and recognize the need to establish an EPMO (Enterprise Project Management Office) aimed at ensuring all projects align with overall business goals are far more likely to achieve success. Business owners and executives can equip their companies for such success by providing full buy-in and support for all approved strategic projects. Because EPMOs focus all efforts to elicit maximum performance in all project aspects, they are likely to see a decline in funding, resources, and time deficits.

3: Identify business requirements

Numerous project failures can be traced back to inaccurate or insufficient business requirements identification. Think of this in terms of the 80/20 rule, where project managers and teams may have been successful in meeting 80% of the secondary project deliverables and objectives, all the while missing out on 20% of the primary project goals.

This is where it becomes critical to have a very clear grasp of strategic goals, as well as to clarify, set, and document the project purpose, scope, and expectations. During this stage, ongoing and transparent communication between executives, the project manager, and applicable stakeholders is vital. Significant time should be invested at this key juncture in an effort to reduce the chances of executing the project based on inaccurate or incomplete information.

SEE: Project Management Resource Kit (Tech Pro Research)

4: Assemble a success-minded team

In order to maximize effectiveness, and gain optimal benefits from project efforts, strategically minded organizations recognize the need to assemble skill-based teams rather than traditional departmental representation. This provides a mechanism for optimizing human resources for the purpose of gaining internal efficiencies and productivity while leveraging high-level employee skill sets.

Since organizations' biggest assets are their people, investing in high-value individual and project team skills development creates a win-win for both the employee and the company. Additionally, success-minded team members organically tend to continually look for business process improvements, and seek out opportunities that factor into a company's best interest.

5: Conduct constant monitoring, controlling, and communication

In keeping with the business strategy, once projects have been initiated, they are not a "set and forget" undertaking; all tasks and deliverables should be continually vetted against business objectives to ensure sufficient alignment still exists. Full project management access to executives for regular open dialogue allows ample opportunity to identify any shortfalls or misaligned requirements previously missed or not documented.

If there are changes to key requirements, it is advantageous to have captured variances earlier rather than later in project execution to reduce wasted time and resources. Communicating any requirements changes to applicable stakeholders is also imperative to reduce the risk of misunderstandings and dissatisfaction. This is not the time to become complacent.

6: Build in contingencies

Lessons learned from previous projects (whether yours or other projects) can be of high value in reducing the chances of repeating costly mistakes. Take the time to review projects of a similar nature in terms of industry, size, and complexity to determine root causes of issues encountered. Then, build in contingencies wherever and whenever possible to allow for sufficient time and resources.

Estimating and scheduling down to the wire can only prove hazardous and set project teams up for failure. Ultimately, buffers serve as a mechanism to protect stakeholders from disappointment.

7: Know what you don't know

Regardless of project management experience or knowledge, no one is capable of knowing everything, nor excelling in every area. It's wise for project managers to seek advice and/or help from others; this provides opportunities to learn, gain strength, and mentor in additional facets of project management, ultimately decreasing the risk of unnecessary mistakes.

In addition, project leaders should take the time to identify and document lessons learned, not only from their projects but also peer projects.

Preparation is key

Not all situations can be anticipated; however, sufficient planning and preparation can go a long way to help disaster-proof projects.

What other tips would you add to this list? Let us know in the discussion.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications, and a contr...

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