How to avoid project failures

I used to think that projects would be successful if all the big important things were in place. My view changed when I led a program to replace multiple reporting tools with one, earth-shatteringly great tool. The only problem was that there had been almost no focus on data quality for multiple years. Front line staff were not clear why they were collecting the data, what it was going to be used for, and whether it would be used for anything else. The best reporting tools in the world won’t help you if your base data isn’t accurate or if it’s missing altogether. As the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out.

This and other experiences have taught me that it’s not the “big rocks” that can trip up a fit-for-purpose project delivery, it’s usually the little basic things that have been overlooked. So here are my top five “little rocks” that you should look out for so they don’t trip up your project and your business:

  1. Who’s who in the zoo
    Stakeholders throughout the value chain should know the role they play, as well as how their part in the chain impacts those both up- and down-stream. One of my initiatives saw a $5.1m impact within four months by simply bringing stakeholders together to better understand each other and the role they played in the ecosystem. The teams were able to work together more effectively and efficiently once they knew the part everyone played.
  2. Processes are a business’ backbone
    Most projects will touch business processes in some way; changing the old and introducing a new. You need to make sure your new or revised processes are going to work for everyone concerned. The same process isn’t always really the same between teams, so make sure you take the time to understand how everyone currently does things. If your processes are too hard or too different, it’s going to be a hard sell, and you’ll need top-notch change management otherwise your end users may revolt, making your life very difficult and reducing the chances that your project will reach its potential.
  3. Big data isn’t all that
    Having a lot of data won’t automatically solve all your problems. Be clear on what questions you need to answer, and then identify the data that you need to do just that. Before you get into detailed build, check the quality of your data (e.g., accuracy, completeness, and consistency across data sources). The best tools and data scientists can’t give you quality results with bad data. Garbage in, garbage out!
  4. Culture is king
    Organisations have personalities of their own and your project needs to align with that culture or come with a large cultural change element. Risk appetite is a big area where projects need to consider culture. If your organisation’s culture is risk-averse, then running your project and interactions with stakeholders in a ‘gung ho’ way will likely result in problems for your project. Conversely, if your organisation is progressive and risk-tolerant, then a protracted project with delayed decision making will likely frustrate your business stakeholders.
  5. There’s no “duh”
    Make sure you have taken care of the simple things and validated all your assumptions; double and triple check them. One organisation spent a lot of time and money building a structure to store some expensive equipment and vehicles, only to find that its structure would fit only one of the two-vehicle sizes.

So, next time you have the opportunity to influence a project, make sure you look for the little rocks that can have big impacts.

Samantha Rush, Principal Consultant, Legion Consulting Group

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