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Our Favorite Method to Watch Our Projects Fail


All want to succeed

The reality of projects is that some projects do fail. That is unfortunate. Of course, projects can fail for multiple reasons. Each project is unique and has its own context. Whole books can be written on the topic. It is an interesting topic. Failures can be the best mentor in life.

Organizations do sincerely want to complete their projects successfully. After all, they are the one approving these projects. They invest resources in them with the aim of achieving specified benefits. A project manager is put in charge and should have all the support of the organization. The reader would note here that I do not say the project manager is the one who most wants the project to succeed, but rather the organization. Ultimately, it is the sponsor of the project that must take ownership of the success of the project.

Having a project manager is part of establishing the proper team for the success of the project. The project manager is part of the team just like the project owner is part of the team. But it is only one piece of the puzzle. Resourcing the whole project team matters.

The lack of resources

There is one cause of project failure that happens a lot: lack of resources.

It is so obvious. We cannot achieve something magically. We need resources to work on tasks and complete the project. It is fascinating that it is one of the most “favorite” methods to fail.

Many projects will fail because someone will decide to not invest properly in the project and build a project team. It can happen on any project, but it seems to happen a lot in professional services projects, such as IT projects.

Why do people do that? We can think of a few reasons:

Lost in strategy

In large organizations, senior executives can be so focused on strategies that they forget the reality of implementing a strategy. Strategic thinking is essential, especially if projects are to be important for the success of the organization. However, no strategy will succeed without proper resourcing of activities. Resources can be internal employees, contractors, and any combination. Resourcing may sound like an administrative task, but that is an illusion. It is one of the most strategic parts of executing a project. Without the appropriate number of persons—with the proper skills—a project will not succeed. There is nothing strategic in failing at implementing a strategy.

Pleasing the CFO

Pleasing the accountant is the financial trap. Let’s pretend that it can be done with half the resources, just to please the person providing financial resources. Let’s pretend and extend the timeline. If we are lucky, the magic trick will work. But most likely, one or more of the following will happen:

  • The project will require a change requesting more funding.
  • The project quality will suffer a lot.
  • The benefits of the project will be very limited because of a very narrow scope.
  • The project will simply fail.

Excessive levels of optimism

Resourcing may have been done for the project, but with excessive optimism. Regular vacation and sick days are not an excuse for a project to fail. On a long-term project, they must be factored into the pacification of resources. Excessive optimism can also work its way into locating the resources: time required to find resources through contracts, time needed to hire or assign persons to the project, etc.

Too narrow view on skills

There is the competency bias. It happens when the project is defined with an excessively narrow view of tasks required to do the project. A project includes the core subject matter expert but lacks resources for all other tasks. It is a naïve approach to overvalue some competencies and reduce the importance of others. Proper resourcing is an essential part of achieving the maximum benefits of a project at the most appropriate cost.

The urgency trap

Finally, there is the urgency trap. This is the same problem as skipping planning. An urgent wish to start doing things. The project gets into motion with just whatever resources are available. A slower start can often achieve much better results, at a higher quality and lower price. In the initial phase of the project, building the project team should be a top priority.

The project team is essential

We rarely hear about project resource management, even if it is one chapter of PMBOK. Yet the project team is an essential element of the success of a project.

There is nothing that can be accomplished by being short of resources. There is nothing useful in pretending that a project can be done with 50% of the required resources. Don’t lie to look good in a project proposal or a project report.

Take time to ensure your project has the right level of resources with the appropriate competencies at the right time. Be strategic. Invest enough time in building your team.


For more brilliant insights, check out Michel’s website: Project-Aria

Michel Dion

Michel Dion is a CPA and PMP, living in Ottawa, Canada with his wife and 2 kids. He also has a certification in Internal Audit (CIA), Risk Management (CRMA) and Fraud (CFE). Michel has managed in his career many projects, including special initiatives and emergency projects. He is developing a website called Project-Aria, and is very active in the project management community on the web. The key areas of focus of Project-Aria are project management, leadership, productivity, mind and health, and career and training. He has loved technology since the moment he played on the TRS80 a while ago. Despite that, his two sons insist that they know more about technology than him. Sometimes, he will comment on other subjects, as he likes fitness, travel, chess, photography, and music. He also has a goal of mastering four languages: English, French, Spanish and Swedish. Pay Michel a visit at Project-Aria by clicking the button below.

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