Despite project managers’ efforts, are some projects doomed to fail?

Friday, June 28th, 2013 By Jack Nevison

Sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, projects will fail. Econsultancy contributor Graham Oakes recently argued that not only will some projects inevitably fail—they should.

"Projects are, by definition, one-off activities," Oakes wrote. "They entail some element of research, of learning, of doing new stuff. (At least new to this organization.) They all contain risks."

But not all risks are created equal, and not all projects fail for the same reason. Oakes argues that there are essentially two types of project failure. First, there are projects that fail "due to inherent risk." These failures are acceptable, Oakes wrote, and are indeed inevitable. After all, it is the obligation of project managers to manage risk, but they can never fully eliminate it.

The other type of project failure, however, is unnecessary failure. This, Oakes wrote, is "[t]he failure we create when we get basic stuff wrong in our project initiation and execution."

He lists several ways that project managers fall victim to unnecessary failures:

  • They handle too many unrelated projects at once
  • Those projects have vague guidelines that are difficult to follow
  • The organization sponsoring the project is not giving it enough time
  • Managers are not communicating properly
  • They try to run projects without enough people with the right skills, time or funding.

Project managers must ensure that they are well trained to avoid as many of these errors as possible. 

New Leaf Project Management's program, "Five Sigma Project Management," can teach managers how to avoid the unnecessary failures with their first projects and prepare them to go on to qualify for their PMP® certification.

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