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Avoid Failed Projects: Prevention is Better Than Cure

Recommended Reads | By Duncan Haughey | Read time minutes

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 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 critical 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 ensure an agreed definition, scope, and plan is in place. 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 that 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 may 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 that you have an inadequate budget and an unrealistic timescale until it's too late. 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 it 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:

  1. Ensure you have identified the project goals, objectives, benefits, scope, risks, issues, budget, timescale and approach.
  2. Communicate this to all the stakeholders and get their agreement.
  3. 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 with a promise to provide them later.

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

Recommended read: Top Seven Questions for Starting Projects More Effectively, by Kevin Eikenberry.


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