4 Reasons Why Your Projects Fail – And What You Can Do About Them

I told you about 5 reasons why your team does not use your web based project management system.

In this video, I tell you four reasons why your projects fail. I also share strategies and practices you can adapt to get your team to use your project management system and succeed at projects.

This video is full of unnerving truths and insights. It’s also full of actions you can start practicing today. It’s the gist of my 15 years experience of managing 250 projects and 400 people.

You can read transcript below or turn on CC option in video player.

17th Feb 2011

Transcript of the video

OK, we now know why people don’t use your project management system. Now I am going to reveal four reasons why your projects to fail.

Reason 1: You don’t know where you want to go

Projects are journeys. If you are not certain about the destination, you can’t reach there. When we start on the project, we only have a top level view of what the project should accomplish. Most clients have a vague sense of what they want. No matter how well we try to define and document the requirements, we discover details when we are closer. We always learn the most about something when we are actually doing it.

A fixed, known target is easier to hit than a target that keeps moving. All estimates are guesses.

Lack of clarity leads to confusion. The easiest action in confusion is no action. And non action and resignation lead to failure.

The point to take home? Develop and propagate the vision of your projects.

Reason 2: You don’t know how to get there

No matter how much experience you have, every project is new. Every project has its own challenges. It could be a new market, team or technology. You or your team may not know how to execute the project. We may have a good understanding of overall implementation, but the devil is in the detail. And we generally have a tough time getting around those details.

Most projects start off well and start struggling midway. Some get stuck on the last 10%, and the last 10% takes 90% of time and cost. These are signs that we do not know what it takes to complete the project. We are shooting in the dark.

Sometimes you have a team that does not have much experience in the project. The challenges of the project are way beyond their skills. This will lead to frustration, loss of productivity and delays. Most projects begin with little risk analysis. And even if they do, they don’t execute riskiest things first. This leads to shocks and surprises later on.

Question for you: do you have clear direction for success?

Reason 3: You don’t track how far you’ve reached

We may take regular status updates, but are we tracking what forwards a project and what pushes it back? What are the key performance indicators for your projects? Are you tracking them on a regular basis? What action do you take when you notice an anomaly? Send an email to the person responsible, and then hope it will be taken care of?

Success is a big motivator. When team members know the project is progressing well, they are more likely to complete it well. Weekly iterations, big visible charts, reviews and follow ups – they are all critical to a project’s success.

Do people know what you are tracking? Have you setup clear and specific milestones?

You must allocate sufficient time every week for tracking and course correction. You want to correct the course of your journey before it’s too late.

Reason 4: Who’s project is it anyway?

Does the project belong to the client? Is it the organization’s project? Is it the project managers? What is your contribution to the project? Do you determine success of the project?

For most people, their contribution to the project is the work they are assigned. Small work that makes little different can not light fire in their bellies. If your team does not get a sense of ownership there is little chance you will succeed.

In our last Monday Meeting, my team members told me they love working on products because they can see their contribution clearly. They know the software they are developing is going to be useful to thousands of people. When the download counter rings one more, their hearts fill with joy. It’s no longer the organization’s product. It’s their own. They drive the show. They make customers happy. They make the difference.

When you can create this sense of belonging and ownership, everything else will fall in place. When they see this is their project, they will do everything to succeed. It’s just natural.

So What Can You Do About This?

With that, let’s move to the most important part of this video.

Now that you know all this, what can you do about it? What can you do to make your team use your project management system more effectively? How can you improve the chances of success for your projects?

Here are some things you can try.

1. Train your team

Train your team on business. About productivity. About technology. Share your experiences with them. Give them stuff they can learn on their own. Create a common vision. Start looking at things from their point of view. Demand the best from them and give them all the support and encouragement while they get there. Start a weekly joint meeting with your team. Let them know the impact of their work – how it affects the organization and customers – both positive and negative. Share tricks about how they can use the system better. Make them think about how everything can be improved.

Alter your attitude towards them and you will suddenly discover a new team!

2. Iterate weekly

It’s impossible to set clear and specific vision and direction for the entire project. Don’t try to. Have an overall vision and direction for the project. But then iterate weekly to define clear goals and action items. Take riskiest things first. Track and share key performance indicators. Change the project plan as you need to. Strike balance between features, time and cost. Have some deliverable every week. Iterate until you succeed.

3. Adapt the system to your needs

No system will be perfect. No system will do everything you want it to. What you can do is adapt it to your needs.

If you are using activeCollab:

  • Uninstall modules you don’t use
  • Define system and project roles so that people only see what they need to
  • Are you using Checklists or Pages? Can you switch to Tickets and Discussions?
  • Use template projects to create new projects. This will bring structure.
  • You can use our Tickets Plus module to add workflow status to tickets. Or any of our other modules. We take extra efforts to make them easy and useful.
  • Create private, personal projects for each of your team members. Let them use those for non project specific items
  • Use the Incoming Mail module and route as much email through activeCollab as you can
  • Create some informal communication channel to share success, insights and interesting items. Use a special project for this or use Status Updates
  • Let activeCollab be the single source of truth

4. Be a role model

Be a star user of the system yourself. If people see you practice what you preach, they will follow you. Your team always looks up to you for inspiration. Share your insights with them. Tell them how you use the system. Appreciate it when they do good. Be their role model.

A Warning

Now before coming to a close, I want to give you a warning.

See, knowledge makes no difference. Knowing all these reasons or tricks won’t make any difference to you. You probably knew some of this already and it has made no difference so far.

Keep in mind that despite all this, things will not go as per your plans. Projects will be late. People won’t use your system. Everything will go haywire.

And there is nothing wrong with that. Instead of blaming situations and people, shift your attention on what you can do that will give you power.

Focus on a single action you can take that will move your projects forward. Take that action. Review the results.

And iterate until you succeed.


You can also go over this video again. Note down your insights. Pick one action you can take. Then do it.

I am going to work on the next video – where I will talk about starting your own business and developing products.

In the meanwhile, keep your comments coming. :-)

  • StarTele Logic

    Most projects fail because of feature creep and unrealistic expectations since some people have no idea that software development costs money and you have to be flexible. Instead of finding faults with outsourcing company, you need to blame yourself that you expected too much for too little money.
    The real trick of good outsourcing experience is recognizing unrealistic software estimates or quotes which often comes in a competitive bidding. When I get a very low quote, to me it means that the developer has misunderstood the scope of work completely. Hence I will point out if I see a very low estimate since that will lead to failure and resentment later. Therefore, even though I could hold every developer to the time and cost they put in the contract and in their quote, I am willing to let them discuss genuine. As a software professional, I know when to accept changes in the scope of the work and when to agree to pay additionally for the work that may not have been considered earlier. That is the only way to outsourcing Nirvana. You can’t take rigid lines because the fact is 99% projects are underspecified and vague to begin with. So, be flexible and renegotiate for your own sanity as no ones to see a project fail, and you will be happy.