That's why I'm going to approach this in more general terms. I have to because I can't know with any degree of certainty exactly what each project manager is going through when a project is failing. When all is said and done, the projects that are failing due to something specific...when examined closer...are likely failing for a broader, more general reason. My hope is that I can touch on most of these reasons in this article and give each of us something more to look at closely as we are considering risks during risk planning and identification. Please consider these underlying potential failure points for most projects...
Communication. In my book, communication is Job #1 for the project manager. Any project run without proper communication planning and flow is potentially destined for failure. The PM needs to be the central point of all project communication and it's best if you have a project communication plan in place – even if it's not a formal one. You should at least have something that provides all key stakeholders with the contact information (email, phone, Skype, etc.) for all key stakeholders, identifies when and where all key ongoing regular project meetings will happen (and who should be there), how project status reporting will happen and how adhoc project communication should happen. It's all about setting expectations and following through – which is much of the concept behind good project management anyway.
Resource availability. Resource availability is always key. This goes for both sides of the project, but for this item I'll stick to the delivery organization/project team as I'm covering the customer next. Resource availability is a key ingredient to the ongoing success of a project. Imagine going full steam on your project and finding out suddenly – without warning – that your tech lead is not going to be available to the project for the next month. It happened to me. Her manager knew...she thought I knew even though we had made no arrangements to do any project knowledge transfer and that should have raised a flag for her to shout something from the rooftops. Plus, she was offshore so there was really no opportunity for a face to face transfer of knowledge, say, over the weekend. I realize this goes back to communication as the main underlying issue, but resource availability – or lack thereof – can rear it's ugly head in many ways. The key is to stay on top of it by constantly (weekly for certain at a minimum) examining and re-forecasting your resource usage and making sure all key stakeholders have access to this information. Don't let my scenario happen to you.
Customer engagement. Customer availability can be just as important as project team member availability. You need the customer to be available on an ongoing basis for requirements and business process information, questions and decision making. The absent customer can lead to key tasks moving forward based on incorrect assumptions or requirements that may be mis-interpreted. Keep the customer engaged by setting proper expectations from the start and by keeping them engaged through regular status meetings and task assignments.
Decision making failure points. Decisions often need to be made on the spot with less than full information or input from key players. You try to minimize these situations, but they still happen. I don't want to call them bad decisions, because good decisions can steer the project wrong when they appeared to be good based on what we knew at the time and based on what personnel and information we had access to. It may be only after the decision...and mistake...has been made that we have access to the right information and realized that...oh, that was a bad decision. That's why customer engagement, key stakeholder availability and team resource availability are all very important. Often, these individuals are critical to good decision making.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is this – failure happens and often due to something other than what it appears to be on the surface. How we set expectations out of the gate at the project kickoff meeting can help alleviate some of those potential risks and failure points. The rest falls to practicing ongoing project management best practices. That will never ever guarantee project success – nothing can – but it will help get you through or even avoid most rough spots.
How about our readers? What are you thoughts on key project failure points and causes? Do these match up with your own experiences? What would you add to these? Please share your own thoughts and let's discuss.