At What Stage the Projects Fail?

Lesson Learned is a process that provides an opportunity to learn about both positive and negative aspects about any project. Generally the main focus point in this document is the reasons behind the project failure (if that is the case). The main cause of failure is often clearly identified but one thing that is very rarely discussed is that “at which stage the project failed?” It doesn’t mean that at which stage the project was halted rather at which stage the start of the failure was triggered.

This identification in the project timeline is very important to see what really caused the failure so that proper check-points can be set in future to identify the same issue at its earliest stage. One of the main qualities of a good manager is that he/she is able to proactively determine and highlight any triggered risk and be able to take appropriate actions.

As per my experience and observation, the most common point or stage at which the project failure is triggered is the “Planning Phase”. The common reasons are that the projects are more or less planned with unrealistic timelines or resources. Similarly all the planning is based on assuming the best-case scenarios and this often leads to cut down in project reserves. 

The planning is mostly done assuming all resources with the highest level of skills and experience. This leads to planning with optimistic estimates based on the capabilities of the most skilled resources. Most of the time, the Scope is not well defined and above that “Waterfall” methodology is preferred over Agile. 

The projects, especially the ones won through a competitive bidding process, are often “Fix Cost” projects which have been won at the lowest bid. The expected level of “Quality” is the area that got sacrificed in most of the cases which cause rework and ultimately affects all the dynamics of the project.

Since the scope is not clear, for most of the project, so are the risks associated with the project. Therefore an effective risk management is not at all possible in that case. This again results in consuming the project reserves, if any, are very quickly and thus leading towards failure. 

The best strategy is to give the planning phase proper time so that realistic plans should be formed keeping in mind the capabilities and availability of assigned resources. It is also always a good idea to have an independent consultant to provide Governance and Support especially through the planning phase.

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