Project management 101: 5 deadly project killers

The main reasons projects unravel (and how to get them back on track)

When a project has engulfed the last year of your life, the last thing you need is a battle with disengaged stakeholders in a fight to keep it alive. Once a project hits that critical stage, it often requires a David and Goliath scale struggle to pull it back from the brink.

Experienced project managers consistently identify 5 main causes of project derailment which stem from both lack of robustness in the preparation and errors in execution. Read on to make sure your project does not follow this dreaded fate:

  • Vague requirements

Nothing spells certain doom for a project more than requirements. Requirements must be nailed down right from the get go; remember that time spent gathering requirements is never time wasted. The business might not appreciate the significance of drilled down requirements, so be clear at the start about what the requirements mean and how unchangeable they are.

If the business is vague on any requirement, resist the temptation to fill in the gaps. Having that box filled in might feel satisfying, but it will cause no end of issues later. If agreement really cannot be reached, agree to return to it once the project hits a certain milestone.

  • Communication breakdown

A top priority in effective project management is to know your stakeholders and have the right people involved. Then make a communication plan at the start and stick to it. Even if there have been no changes, send that weekly update; it will keep your project alive and current.

If you need an answer to a question before a project can continue, it can be difficult getting a straightforward and timely answer, particularly in the current age of increased compliance involvement and multi-site working.

Finally, only ask a question when you need to; procrastination can hold a project to ransom. If you really need to get the OK from someone, come up with your own solution (based on requirements) and tell them what you’re doing. Simply ask for a yes or no confirmation – this is much easier to achieve than asking stakeholders to provide input on a solution.

  • Changing priorities

When your project launched it was the talk of the lunchroom, the exciting new development that would take the business into the future. But a lot can happen in 12 months. New regulations, internal re-structuring and changing business priorities can affect your project’s traction.

The trick for project managers is to keep the project relevant. Make sure you don’t ignore changes going on around you, but constantly consider and communicate how they impact the project. Maybe part of that new regulation could be covered by a few adjustments to your project – take the initiative and get involved. Put your project back on the table and keep it a priority.

  • Disengaged stakeholders

A key task of successful project management is stakeholder management. Like most project killers, setting the ground work at the very start can help to keep your less-than-enthusiastic stakeholders in line. Make sure you communicate the importance of project outcomes - how they impact the business and consequences of failure. Highlight the personal responsibilities of different stakeholders in a world where regulators are vying for individual accountability - this kind of incentive might be the attention grabber you need.

  • Misreporting project status

Bad news is tough to deliver, but over-optimistic project reporting can be your project’s downfall. Rather than putting a positive spin on status reports, focus instead on making realistic assessments of progress while managing expectations along the way. Ensure stakeholders are aware of bugs throughout the project, even minor ones. It’s much better to be able to report that you successfully fixed a reported issue than risk having to drop a ‘situation-critical bomb’ on your unsuspecting stakeholders later on.

Project management comes with its fair share of ups and down. A successful project manager knows how to identify project killers early and stop them in their tracks.

If you are a successful project manager looking for new opportunities, we can help.

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