project management failure causes

What Are the Top 10 Causes of Project Management Failures?

There are a number of things that can and do go wrong on a project. You are probably familiar with many of the most common project management failures or nonconformances, but are you familiar with the causes of project management failures?

Common Project Management Nonconformances Include:

  • Errors, omissions or just plain poor assumptions
  • Delays which affect the project schedule or the originator’s ability to meet project deadlines
  • Late submissions
  • Rework
  • Unauthorized changes to projects, schedules, plans, etc.
  • Non-compliance with established policies, procedures, specifications or project specific Quality Assurance Plans
  • Cost overruns (which result from all other failures)

You don’t have to be a project manager to understand that anything which negatively impacts the project delivery system or a specific project’s quality, schedule, or budget is a problem. These are all symptoms of a larger set of problems. So just what are the causes of project management failures?

Root Causes of Project Management Failures

There are many causes to project management failing, these are some of the top 10 that lead to a project failing.

1. Poor Communications

Project management is all about good communications. You have to keep everyone informed about changes, assumptions, requirements, standards, budgets, costs, and the schedule. Developing a good visual management system is a tremendous benefit to any project manager. Paper systems in binders are a notoriously bad way to keep people informed. Consider Lean Daily Management System, dashboard, or an electronic one that everyone check into daily. Develop a good communication system and you won’t have to worry about one of the causes of project management failures.

2. Poor Schedule or Resource Management (Mismanagement)

Managing a project is really about managing the schedule, but a schedule is really a collection of resources that are being managed on a schedule. You increase the chances of having one of the cause of project management failures if you mismanage your resource schedule.

3. Weak Requirements Definitions (Leads to Inadequate Planning)

If you don’t know where you are going then how do you know when you get there? A good project manager must know what the target is. Your project requirements are the target. One way of defining requirements is to describe what the end result looks like in measurable or object terms. Instead of requiring software to be friendly or easy to use, how about saying that it has to be simple enough that a 12 year old child can use it. We can argue about “easy to use” software but at least we now have an objective measure for our testing.

4. Inadequate Planning, Assumptions, Risks, or Resources

If you are planning a project, then you should be familiar with Murphy’s Law, “If anything can go wrong it will” Projects are frequently impacted by risks, assumptions about resource usage, or plain old surprises. The traditional solution is to add safety time or buffers to tasks to allow for schedule slippage and unplanned events. There are a lot of reasons why this fails too. I would suggest implementing Critical Chain management to take more control over these buffers and prevent causes of project management failures.

5. Use of New or Unproven Technologies/Methods

It can be so tempting to use the latest technology, or new method, but unless you are trained on the newest thing, all you are doing is introducing new risks. Projects have enough risks already without the need to introduce new risk from unproven technology.

6. Ineffective (or Nonexistent) Quality Controls

Quality control is a simple system of checks and balances to ensure you are delivering what the customer asked for in the first place. What kind of quality control are you using for your project management? Are you tracking every project management nonconformance? Charting to find trends? Taking action when the trend is outside the norm? Most projects have a system for correcting problems but this is not the same as a system of corrective action. Ineffective quality controls are definitely one of the causes of project management failures.

7. Managing Multiple Projects at Once or Multitasking Resources

It seems so obvious to recapture downtime and juggle a few extra tasks in the meantime. But multitasking introduces complexity and schedule risk, which can impact all projects involved. Less is more. Focus is power. You can actually increase your productivity by focusing on fewer projects.

8. Supply Chain Failures

Sometimes you have to contract out the work. But managing contractors has inherent risks too. Contractors may not have the skill level required for the task. Contractor’s multi-task in order to stay busy, and multitasking introduces complexity and schedule risk. It sounds so easy to contract out some of the work to your supply chain but it actually adds to complexity (which can lead to causes of project management failures) unless you have clearly defined requirements agreed to first.

9. Scope Creep or Poor Impact Analysis

This happens on practically every project doesn’t it? You start with a clear concept or at least you thought it was clear when you started. Then one thing leads to another and before you know it you are involved in a different project. That’s scope creep. If we are doing “A”, then we must do “B”, and if we are do “B”, then we have to also do “C”. Clarifying the real requirements and performing a good impact analysis are two methods to solve this problem. Otherwise, scope creep will impact your schedule, your budget, and your resources.

10. Lack of Qualified Resources

We will just have to make do” If you hear this then you know you are questioning your resources. Give the wrong task to the wrong person and you are impacting your project. This usually happens when we don’t do capacity planning well and we find out that we lack enough experienced resources.

There you have it, the top ten causes of project management failures. Individually, you might be able to manage around any single cause but taken collectively, you will have a colossal project management failure. In fact, any two could seriously impact any project. Don’t let this happen to you; learn how to prevent project management failures.

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