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Mike Figliuolo


How to See Your Projects to Completion

Six reasons projects go bad and how to avoid them

Published: Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 12:03

Projects go off the rails all the time. Some statistics I’ve seen say only one in eight projects can truly be declared a success. Why are we so horrible at executing projects, especially when we have all these “tried and true” project management methodologies?

There are seven deadly killers of projects. Any one of them can undermine your project’s success. However, we can teach people how to avoid these issues. For the benefit of all my readers, I’ve outlined these seven killers below along with ways to overcome them.

Team disengagement

The team is just checked out. Low morale. Disinterest. Apathy. Their work products are late or low quality.

To mitigate: Ensure your project is listed on team members’ personal goals, get their manager to commit them to the project, and show them how the project benefits them personally and professionally.

1. Sponsor disengagement

The sponsor rubber-stamps decisions, misses meetings, and doesn’t fight for the team to get the resources it needs.

To mitigate: Get the project listed as one of the sponsor’s personal goals, and explain how the project can advance her personal agenda or standing within the organization.

2. Steering committee disengagement

The steering committee isn’t steering—it’s just riding. Committee members approve ideas and changes without questioning them. They fail to engage and knock down obstacles the team faces.

To mitigate: Tap into each individual’s specific expertise. Ask him to get involved with the problem-solving on defined areas of the project. Help him understand how the project will benefit his area of responsibility.

3. Loss of a resource

Joe quits the project right in the middle of implementation. Susan gets promoted and moved to another division. Your budget gets slashed. But the stakeholders still expect you to deliver the project on time and of good quality, despite these losses.

To mitigate: Develop a contingency plan for replacing resources. Build a “depth chart” so you know who’s on the bench and can step in when you lose a key resource. Also maintain a prioritized list of things you’ll cut if you lose budget, and prenegotiate those cuts with the steering committee before the resources are lost.

4. It doesn’t work

When you flip the switch, it simply doesn’t work. It blows up, or it breaks down. The functionality you were supposed to deliver is dysfunctional.

To mitigate: Have a rollback plan in place before you turn the project on. Have a troubleshooting contingency in place, including a team to implement it, so you’re not scrambling to assemble resources to fix the problem.

5. Politics as usual

Personal agendas can dominate a project. People take actions that aren’t in the best interest of the organization. There’s jockeying for credit and posturing for personal gain.

To mitigate: Spend time assessing possible agendas before you launch the project. Identify possible conflict points, and structure the team or the deliverables in a way that minimizes the chances of politics being played. As needed, provide feedback to people playing politics. Involve your sponsor or steering committee if necessary.

6. People working in silos

The left hand doesn’t know or care what the right hand is doing. Teams are performing redundant work, or even worse, are working at cross-purposes to one another.

To mitigate: Organize the project so that people from different departments are working on the same deliverables. Force those interactions to happen. Conduct regular reviews of deliverables with all team members present so folks can see if there are redundancies or conflicting efforts.

Sure, your project needs a pretty Gantt chart and an eloquent charter. Even with all the project management discipline in the world, your project can still die at the hands of these seven killers. Think beyond your project plan and consider these dangers. You can’t mitigate them if you’re not aware of them before they strike.

First published April 1, 2020, on the thoughtLEADERS blog.


About The Author

Mike Figliuolo’s picture

Mike Figliuolo

Mike Figliuolo is the author of The Elegant Pitch and One Piece of Paper. He's the co-author of Lead Inside the Box. He's also the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC—a leadership development training firm. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog.