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Project Success and Failure

Learn why projects fail so often and what we can do to ensure success. Watch Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explain more.
What I like to call the paradox of project management is that at the same time that project management techniques are developing and improving. Failures are becoming more and more apparent. And more and more common. Think about it. When have you recently heard about a successful project that was delivered on time, on budget, and met it’s specifications? It’s not easy to come up with a few examples. But horror stories, they’re everywhere. We always see these headlines. For instance, Boeing’s shares plummet, because the Dreamliner is delayed again, for the fifth time. Or descends into a nightmare, repeated delays on its deliveries on its new product, its brand new airplane.
Products routinely pull out and cancel their new developments, because the project is unsuccessful. Or websites and services launch and routinely face a string of failures and disastrous service when their product becomes live. Finally, IT projects are notoriously and repeatedly reported to exceed their budget and to take too long. In fact, studies show that one in six projects grows wildly out of budget and out of hand. And so why is it that projects fail so often and so frequently? Well there’s a few factors, or a few common reasons, that we can trace and we can track why projects fail. And here are few most commonly cited. First is little or no planning at all.
There’s no clear goal, no identification of the scope, and no estimated timeline. Second, lack of leadership and commitment by the stakeholders. We know that the stakeholders are critical for our success, and when we lack to consider them, and they’re not committed to our project, our project will fail.
Third, lack of training on new technology. We cannot expect a new technology to be an integrated part of our project, without taking proper caution along the way. Fourth, we do not spend time learning lessons from historical projects, and trying to improve, and trying to incorporate them as we move forward. Next, we lack proper project management training. Very often, project managers are in their positions without ever taking a course, or being certified, or even knowing anything about project management per se. And therefore, lack of project management training is a, one of the key factors that leads to project failure. Finally, we are sometimes all subject to certain individual biases.
We’re optimistic about the future and we’re over confidant in our own capabilities. We ignore or we are affected by some cost, and we don’t take them into account properly and make decisions in the moment as we should. And sometimes inertia and confirmation bias effects the way that we think about a project and we continue to get involved with a project even though we should have terminated it and left long ago.
So, how can we be successful with our projects? And what dimensions effect or might lead to successful projects? Well, one frame to look and to think about in order to try and ensure success. We’ll be four dimensions introduced by Aaron Shenhar and Dov Dvir. Shenhar and Dvir talk about four aspects or four axis that we might want to consider and map our project onto, technology, novelty, pace, and complexity. By thoughtfully identifying where our project lies on each one of these dimensions, we will identify the proper tools and techniques by which to manage our projects. And that will guarantee, or at least, improve our chances of success.
So for instance if we’re about to begin a new project, and we’ve identified that this project, for instance, is low on technology it’s a low tech project. And we believe that is, it is derivative, in terms of its novelty. And that the pace in which it’s required to hit the market is neither regular or blitz. There is some urgency, but it is not severe. And on the dimension of complexity, we rate it as moderately complex. Well if we identify that and that is not correct, we will probably choose the wrong set of techniques and tools to manage our projects.
And in reality if it turns out that we were dealing with a much more complex technology and it was much more high tech than we anticipated to begin with. Then, we are probably going to find ourselves failing to deliver on time, on budget, and within the scope. Another key factor that we need to think about is how are we going to measure the success of our project? Too often, we would like to think about a project being successful if in 20 years time, it pr, provided the revenue it predicted and it was operational and still around. But that is not exactly how we define the success of projects.
When we talk about a success of a project, we define it with respect to its objectives. And so we need to go back and revisit our project objectives. And so, a successful project will be a project that is on time, on budget, and delivers the scope. We’re going to ask. Was it on time, was it late? And by how much? Was it over or under budget? And by how much? Did it deliver its promised deliverables? Where the customers satisfied at the time of the project completion? Answering these questions will help us determine whether our projects are successful or not.

In this video, Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne explains why projects fail so often and what we can do to ensure success.

Think about some of the projects that you’ve been involved with recently or in the past. Based on your experiences, what factors led to success? What factors led to failure?

What recommendations might you provide to others based on your experiences?

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Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management

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