Project failure is not a matter of “if” but “when.” Failure will always occur, and it’s almost never pleasant. This is an unfortunate fact of projects–especially web projects. But knowing what types of issues might creep up in a project, and devising ways to prevent or alleviate them, can help soften the blow.
What are some of the common project failures? Let’s take a look.
Disagreement occurs when two parties cannot come to a consensus on a certain subject, and at a safe level, this is not a dangerous thing. Disagreement is natural. Without it, we would never hear opposing viewpoints–where new, potentially better ideas emerge and help propel the project forward. However, when disagreement reaches a point that is detrimental to the project, it’s time to think of the project’s success.
For example, on one project I was involved with, the client decided to go with a content management system that I had advised against. There was a disagreement about how the project could progress under the new system, and ultimately, the project had to be ended.
How could this have been avoided?
- Gather as much knowledge as possible about the client before starting the process. Understanding what systems are in place, software procurement plans, and required software capabilities can give essential insight into the types of decisions you will face during the project. With that insight, you’ll be able to prepare any counterarguments or alternative options that may be necessary.
- Be forward-thinking in the decisions clients confront you with. Spend time analyzing what impact it may have on the project and its outcome. There may be many small parts that will require your attention, but in the long haul, you’ll thank yourself.
- Employ persuasion tactics if the client plans on moving forward with an ill-advised decision. Project managers must be communicators, and good communicators are adept at proving their case. One way to be persuasive is by getting to the root of the client’s desires. Figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing, and then create alternatives that cater to their needs and the project’s needs as well.
Everyone always preaches strong planning practices, but it is a really tough principle to conform to. Planning involves invoking the critical thinking mechanism of our brains, which can be a strenuous exercise. Thinking through different paths and extrapolating outcomes is tough business. We need to pause before jumping into the project and ensure a solid road map is in place to detail the ins and outs of the work. Failure to do so will result in a project where you as project manager will be constantly dodging problems and issues that should have and could have been avoided.
How can you implement better planning?
- Build into the project a block of time where you sit down and plan the precise specifics of the work to be completed, which may include creating and/or analyzing milestones, requirements, technical specifications, client notes, and other relevant documents.
- Spend time before actually engaging a project on understanding the prospect’s (soon to be client’s) needs. The initial meetings or phone calls you have with a prospect will determine the course of the project. Encourage them to put everything on the table and to be clear in their desired scope of work.
- Find ways to track your plan. This may be software, pen and paper, or photographic memory (well, maybe not). Whatever organizational method works best should be used strictly throughout the project. I personally recommend using software such as Basecamp to follow milestones and to centralize client comments and files.
If you could scan your client’s brain and see their thoughts, what would you discover? Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we can’t do this, so the exact expectations a client has for a project will never be fully clear to us. It’s when these expectations really fall away from the project that problems begin to occur.
How can we keep client expectations on track with the project?
- Stimulate open discussion with your client by forming a collaborative atmosphere. Clients should feel as if they can share with you their thoughts and feelings about the project, not the other way around. You can accomplish this by being proactive in your communication so that the client knows you’re receptive to their feedback.
- Constantly pause during the project to ask the client for feedback. Some clients may seem busy or disengaged with the project, which is why you should be vigilant and sincere in seeking their feedback. Never immediately shoot down anything they say and always maintain a positive composure.
- Give the client a means to track the project along with you. Most project management software features a client interface where they can view milestones and goals. Transparency is important to a project, because without it, clients are left blind and panicked about progress achieved–and this can lead to a great divide in expectations.
If failure strikes upon your project, don’t feel flustered. Failure is natural, and it’s from failure we expand our abilities. However, that doesn’t mean we have to take failure at face value. Do what you can to combat it, while keeping the project’s interests and goals at heart.