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The 6 not-so-obvious reasons a project plan fails

Bad projects are expensive. In fact, organizations lose a whopping $109 million for every $1 billion invested in projects and programs, according to a Project Management Institute (PMI) study. And the bigger the projects are, the harder they fall.

Large projects are 10 times more likely to fail outright, according to another industry report, and two times more likely to be late, over budget and missing critical features when compared with smaller projects. While small and medium projects may not be quite as fraught with peril, anyone who’s worked on them knows they certainly aren’t without their woes.

So, what are the culprits behind these epic and not-so-epic fails? According to PMI, common causes of project failure range from changing priorities within an organization (40 percent) to limited resources (20 percent). While some may be out of our control as project managers, many are not.

illustration of downward performance

Here are six not-so-obvious reasons why a project plan can quickly go awry:

Static methods

Today, projects have a lot of moving parts. Whether you work in marketing, HR, IT, manufacturing or any other industry, lack of agility and flexibility can be a death sentence for any project.

Agile PM, which has grown alongside the adoption of project management software solutions and applications, has been the trend for a few years now. And, according to PM Times, “will become even more vital today and in the future.”

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, Scrum is the most popular (43 percent) Agile framework for completing complex tasks, followed by Lean & Test Driven Development (11 percent) and eXtreme Programming (10 percent). While Agile organizations grow revenue 37 percent faster and generate 30 percent higher profits than non-Agile companies, less than one-third of companies report using Agile frequently.

Low-end software solutions

Purchasing a low-end tool that lacks features over investing in a good software solution is another mistake many companies make. Amazingly, some companies (23 percent) use no project management software at all. But high-performing companies (87 percent) understand the importance of improved efficiency and increased functionality that project management (PM) software offers.

Then again, not all software is created equally. Successful companies point to reliability, ease of integration and ease of use as being the most important qualities in choosing new project management software.

Good software should also work seamlessly across universally popular tools like Office, Office 365, Skype, PowerPoint and SharePoint and offer leading cloud-based PM services to add flexibility and security while easing technical complexity.

Ineffective juggling of virtual teams

With teams working remotely, often globally, in different time zones, and across various cultures and languages—communication skills and time management have become more critical than ever. Having access to tools that let stakeholders manage on the go and share the latest statuses, conversations and project timelines quickly through a dedicated project site (like those offered by good PM software) keeps everyone connected and organized.

Weak executive support

Having an executive sponsor with a vested interest, someone who will go to bat for your project from start to finish, is a big factor in project success. Yet, fewer than two in three projects had actively engaged project sponsors to provide clear direction or help address problems. Lack of time is often an issue.

So, prior to a project kickoff, sponsors and project managers should meet to discuss issues like time commitment, reporting, meetings, escalating problems, etc. In addition, having software that allows your Project Management Office (PMO) or sponsor to manage PM settings without additional assistance is important.

Not aligning with an organization’s goals and strategies

Undefined project goals are one of the biggest factors in failed projects. Yet, organizations report that an average of three in five projects are not aligned with business strategy. It’s critical to have an understanding of your company’s key strategic priorities and to then examine projects to see how, if at all, they align with corporate/departmental strategic goals.

Setting a clear overview should help in prioritizing projects and in terminating ones that are a low priority or not somehow linked to the overall strategy. This informal audit not only saves precious time, effort, money and resources—it also helps make a case for good projects that will get you the executive support needed.

Communication breakdown

The PMI found that one of the top causes of project failure reported by companies is poor communication. Fortunately, the latest research indicates that purchasing the right PM software seems to significantly improve internal team communication, as well as communication with clients. The ability to communicate in real-time with team members down the hall or across the globe using tools designed to transmit your critical conversations quickly and securely is key to a project’s success.

From simple problems to complex, and everything in between, there are many pitfalls that can plague a project. But for every snare, there’s also a solution. And with low-performing organizations wasting nearly 12 times more resources than high-performing organizations on failed projects, there’s no time like the present to implement those much-needed changes.

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