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Failure and Future Project Success

I was at a Major Projects Association breakfast event on sharing stories of project failure and what we’d learned to help future projects succeed. It was a frank discussion, with many personal examples from the inside. However I’m not reporting on any of those because that’s against the spirit of the event. What I’m writing about are the common threads, and some things the room thought we could do about them.

The session was brilliantly chaired by Sir Robert Walmsey and before we started he gave us a benchmark for project failure. It wasn’t the old triangle of time, cost and quality but rather whether or not we delivered something of benefit.

Commonalities in Project Failure

This is not an exhaustive list, see also the common causes of project failure from the NAO. What we spoke about in the room were

  • Failure of political will/Executive authority
  • Not being responsive to feedback
  • Project vision not being properly linked to the business strategy (or military mission in defence projects)
  • Weak or missing assurance
  • Clients who didn’t understand what they needed or have the capability to direct a project
  • Lack of self awareness in what was possible or likely

What these observations have in common was a shared acceptance that they featured in multiple project failures. Most of them are also things that we can do something about as senior leaders of Change.

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