Project success or project failure – Is the outcome in dispute?

Projects delivered on-budget, on-time and on-scope, on the face of it, are surely a success. But what if the client is not satisfied with the outcome and there is some debate as to whether the project has actually been successful or not.

More importantly how can you avoid this contradictory situation on your next project and ensure everyone views the outcome as a success?

project outcome

It is often poorly-defined business requirements and failure in understanding business analysis that lead to projects that have succeeded on paper but are failures in the eyes of the client because the end-product does not live up to their expectations.

But there are other reasons why it can be hard to determine whether the outcome of a project is a success or not, even when delivered on-time, on-budget and, theoretically, at least, on-scope. It can be down to a lack of good project management or maybe external factors outside your control. To help avoid this situation here are some of the most common causes of this undesirable situation:

Poorly defined business requirements

In the inevitable rush to get a project off the ground it’s not unusual for work to start before the requirements are properly defined and agreed between all parties involved. This is one of the commonest reasons for project failure; assumptions creep in, everyone thinks they are all on the same page but the reality is often far from that ideal.

Business requirements help establish the end outcome so without them the end goal is unclear and, consequently, often unachievable. Or at least unachievable without additional cost and effort.

Lack of involvement of key people

This is a surprisingly common scenario – an enthusiastic project sponsor takes control in the early stages of the project but later on gets drawn into other projects and there are conflicting pulls on the time he or she can dedicate to this project.

One way to avoid this situation is to agree regular scheduled meetings. These can be over the phone, video calls or in person but absolutely not via email. The sponsor will then schedule each meeting and it will become a standard part of their working week/month. But that does mean any issues or approvals need to be raised and agreed during the time of the regular meeting.

Ill-defined success criteria (or none defined at all)

If you can’t measure success then how can everyone agree whether a project has been successful? Ensure specific success criteria are agreed upfront by everyone involved. Ensure they are clearly documented in an unambiguous way then approved by everyone and you are much more likely to meet those aims and hence deliver a successful project.

Poor communication between everyone involved in the project

It’s nothing new that lack of communication or poor communication is the enemy of success in all spheres of life and business. Yet somehow we still fail to communicate adequately with project sponsors, stakeholders and clients. Often this is due to effective project planning and control procedures not being established or adhered to.

All projects should start with a communication plan in place but that in itself is not enough. Projects change and evolve over time, especially if they are long and/or complex. New issues and risks arise that were not predictable so communication needs to keep pace with these changes.

Regularly review the project communication plan during the course of a project to check it is still fit for purpose and you will avoid the poor communication that can bring a project crashing down.

Human resistance to change

Humans all have a natural tendency to become comfortable with the status quo and resist anything that threatens that comfort zone. It is, therefore, only natural that projects, which by their very nature change the status quo, are not always greeted with enthusiasm.

By pointing out the personal benefits to the people most resistant to change you can bring them on board and encourage them to be advocates of the new system, process, product or whatever is being delivered by the project. Include this is the project communication plan so that individual concerns are not neglected and you can overcome the natural human resistance to change.

And remember, there is never only one person or group to blame for a project failure – it’s usually a combined effort! Work as a team towards a common goal and you will succeed – as a team.