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Avoid Failed Projects: Prevention is Better Than Cure

By Duncan Haughey | minute read

Way to success and avoiding failure concept on a blackboard

The biggest problems that projects face are inadequate definition, scope and planning. How many projects have you worked on that ran perfectly; met your customers' expectations and delivered on time and budget? You might be able to think of a couple but can probably remember more that didn't go so well.

Many projects end successfully, some fail, but most end somewhere in between. Often we miss one of the key measures; you've gone past a deadline, exceeded the budget or not fully met customer expectations. The easiest way to avoid this is to ensure the project has a good definition, scope and plan before you start.

Set Expectations Early

It's not uncommon to hear the phrase, we should have spent more time planning during end project meetings. It's tempting when given a new project to start the work. Always avoid this rookie mistake. Before your project begins, you must make sure there is an agreed definition, scope and plan. The trick is to ensure that all your stakeholders have the same view, and they understand:

  • What you will deliver
  • How much it will cost
  • When you will deliver it
  • What the benefits will be
  • How you will approach the work

It's essential you communicate this before the project starts, to avoid different viewpoints and expectations later. If stakeholders don't have time to talk to you (so you can develop a shared understanding) it's best not to start - after all, how important can the project be?

Review Budgets and Timelines

Budgets and timelines often get set before a project manager is involved. If you start work before setting the definition, scope and creating a plan, you won't realise until it's too late, that you have an inadequate budget and an unrealistic timescale. Never commit to the numbers until you have completed the definition, scope and plan.

Know the Scope

The only way to manage scope is to know what it is before the project starts. If you don't define the scope before you begin, it's impossible to control it throughout the project, and you will become a victim of dreaded scope creep.

Define the Project

Before you start any project work, make sure you have identified the project goals, objectives, benefits, scope, risks, issues, budget, timescale and approach. Communicate this to all the stakeholders and get their agreement. Resolve any differences of opinion before the project starts.

Create the Plan

The easiest way to assess the budget and timescale needed for the project is to create a project plan, with all the tasks mapped out and resources assigned before you start. Don't start without the required resources, or on a promise of them later.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Without a definition and plan, you risk scope creep, different views and expectations of stakeholders and a painful project experience.

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