It’s true that every project is unique. However, it’s also
true that all project failures can be assessed using the same generalities. It helps to understand these because you can then be proactive in avoiding the problems to begin with.

Poor up-front planning

This is probably the most common problem. If you have ever
been on a troubled project, chances are you looked back and said “We should
have spent more time planning.” Projects that start execution without
fully understanding the work to be done (and getting the sponsor to agree) are
usually destined for problems. By the time you realize that you are not in
synch with your sponsor, it’s usually very difficult to get back on track
within the allocated budget and timeframe.

Incomplete or vague project workplan

Your work plan (schedule) is the roadmap that describes how
you are going to complete the work. You’ll have problems if your work plan is
at too high a level, incomplete or not up-to-date. You may get away with it on
a small project, but it will be fatal on a larger effort.

Weak ongoing project management discipline

Some project managers do a great job in the upfront planning
process, but then don’t manage the project effectively from that point on. This
includes having problems managing scope change, resolving issues, communicating
proactively and managing project risks.

Inadequate resources

This covers a lot of areas. You may not have the right level
of resources because you didn’t estimate the work correctly. You might have
estimated the work correctly, but your management has not allocated the proper
level of staffing. It’s possible that you have enough bodies, but you don’t
have people with the right skill mix. All of these may lead to major project

People problems

In my experience, people tend to get along fine when the
project is on track. However, if the project gets into trouble, people start to
work longer hours, feel more stress, get more edgy and have more personality
conflicts. While it is certainly possible that these problems are actually
causing the project to slip, it is also likely that other problems are causing
the problem and that the people problems are a later symptom.

Lifecycle problems

There are many opportunities for project problems throughout
the lifecycle. Many of these will cascade as the project progresses, leading to
major trouble. Examples of lifecycle problems include:

  • A
    failure to clearly and completely define the requirements, resulting in
    building the wrong features or leaving gaps in the features needed.
  • New or
    state of the art technology may cause unanticipated problems.
  • A poor
    technical design is not allowing the solution to be easily modified or is
    not scalable.
  • Requirements
    are not frozen late in the project and continued change requests start to
    cause the project to drift.
  • Technology
    components do not fit together as designed.
  • Poor
    initial testing techniques cause repeated errors and rework in later

All of these problems will cause projects to struggle. If
problems occur toward the end of the project, you may have no choice but to do
whatever is required to push the project to completion. The problems that
appear earlier will cause the most trouble over time and are more likely to be
the ones that require a full project rescue.

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