Project Management

Top five reasons organizations fail at project management

Why are many organizations still so bad at project management? After pondering this question on many consulting and training engagements, Tom Mochal has come up with his top five reasons.
Editor's note: This article was originally published June 29, 2006.

Generally speaking, all companies and organizations are trying to get better at project management. (In other words, there aren't any organizations that are purposely trying to get worse at project management.) Though they may not be able to articulate it, organizations recognize that there is value associated with being able to manage projects more effectively.

Then why are many organizations still so bad at project management? What is keeping most organizations from being able to effectively manage projects? I have pondered this on many consulting and training engagements, and I have ranked my top five reasons below. See if you can pick out the reasons why your organization falls short in implementing good project management discipline.

#5: Senior managers think that project management is a software tool.

When you discuss project management with some managers, they initially think you are trying to implement a tool that allows you to be a better project manager. Actually, if it were a tool, you might have more luck convincing them to do it. Even though some aspects of project management may utilize a tool -- like the creation and management of the workplan -- that is not where the value of project management is. Instead, project management is about skills and discipline. It's about applying proactive processes and best practices. It's about using common and understood templates. Don't get me wrong -- tools have their place, but software tools are not the answer.

#4: Organizations don't value the upfront investment of time.

Many people consider themselves to be "doers." Organizations can be that way as well. If you're going to be good at project management, you have to understand that the upfront planning process has value. You need to know that if you plan the project well (in other words, if you know what you're doing before you start), you'll be able to manage the work more effectively. I have seen organizations that say they want to apply good project management, but then are unwilling to invest the time required. No one wants to take the time to plan. Instead, everyone wants to start executing immediately and then redo all the work later to get it right.

#3: You may have been burned in the past.

A common criticism of project management methodology is that it is cumbersome, paper intensive, and takes too much focus away from the work at hand. Sometimes this is a legitimate concern, caused by not scaling the methodology appropriately to the size of your project. However, project management is not the problem; the problem was a misguided attempt at implementation of project management. If you implement project management methodology right, the results will be outstanding.

#2: Your organization is not committed.

Many organizations say they want good project management, but do the actions back up the words? For instance, the first time you try to define the work, does everyone say "just get going?" If you try to enforce scope change management, does your manager say "just do the work?" Does your sponsor say you are wasting time identifying risks? This disconnect is very common. The words say one thing, but the actions say another.

#1: Organizations don't know how to implement culture change.

Most organizations don't know how to manage culture change in general and project management in particular. You can't just train people and turn them loose. You can't just buy Microsoft Project and turn people loose. You have to have a long-term, multi-faceted approach to managing culture change. It takes hard work and resources. Most organizations aren't committed to focus on the culture change long-term, and they don't want to spend any resources to do it. Is it any wonder then, that six months later, project management deployment ends up in the trash pile of culture change initiatives that have all failed in the past?

What would you add to this list?

In your experience, are there reasons that should be added (or removed) from this list? If so, please post them to the discussion.

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