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How To Stop Your Projects From Failing
By Chloe Schuitevoerder

April 8, 2024 | 10 min read

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Written by

Chloe Schuitevoerder

Senior Manager

Chloe is a project professional with over 8 years project and programme management experience across the Financial Services, Insurance and Retail Construction sectors. She is experienced in delivering both business change and IT projects using a range of methodologies and has managed multiple implementations of new rating engine platforms and associated pricing models. Chloe is both PRINCE2 and MSP certified. 

Projects often feel like success or failure is as predictable as the toss of a coin. Your RAG status can be green for six months until suddenly… an unforeseen catastrophe occurs and you’re plummeting into the red. There are however five core practices that will help prevent your project from failing and set your project up for success from the start:

1. Prioritise your project setup

We all know that at the beginning of a project, it’s very tempting to dive straight into technical workshops to determine the one of a kind, perfect, strategically complex solution – that is after all the fun part! However, allowing yourself the time and headspace to consider the best structure for your project will pay dividends once the project is in full swing. This includes determining the right project methodology for your project, i.e. will an Agile DevOps structure suit it better than a traditional waterfall approach? 

The project methodology you choose will enable you to form a suitable project approach and define how your project will be structured from the outset. Whilst project methodologies are often dictated by the sponsoring organisation, if the opportunity rises, ensure you select a methodology based on the specifics of the project – and make sure not to feel constrained by the purists. Tailoring and adapting methodologies to the project’s needs is after all a core component of most methodologies. The other crucial factors to consider for your project setup include:

  • defining your governance structure, 

  • determining and engaging your key stakeholders, 

  • and most importantly confirming your resources!

 

2. Identify your stakeholders

This is possibly the most obvious of the list, but critical none the less. Time spent identifying your key stakeholders is rarely wasted. It won’t be possible to identify everyone you could possibly need to engage with at the very start of the project, however compiling a stakeholder matrix detailing the individuals involved, and their areas of concern and interest will ensure your project is reaching the necessary audience. This will also likely prevent those potentially costly missed requirements or opportunities later on down the road. 

 

3. Prioritise your requirements

‘But it wasn’t defined properly in the requirements’ is a statement that has undoubtably been uttered within almost every business and organisation on the planet. And yet project, after project, requirements are rarely prioritised to the extent needed to enable true project success. Prioritising requirements relies on more than just a superstar business analyst, it needs sufficient engagement from key stakeholders and subject matter experts who will provide the input needed and take ownership and accountability that the end results meet their needs. It also requires ensuring that all individuals involved in the requirements gathering process, and this includes subject matter experts as well as your core project team, have the time available to delve into the required level of detail. 

 

This time is often in short supply due to competing priorities from other projects already in their build or test phases – and it’s often the case that requirements get squeezed, abbreviated or missed in order to meet timelines. Getting your requirements right from the start is the difference between your project delivering what is needed or failing – it's certainly worth spending the time and effort on!

4. Learn from your mistakes

Now there isn’t a project manager alive that will (truthfully) tell you they haven’t ever ‘forgotten’ to hold a lessons learned session, or haven’t read the dusty ledger of documentation provided by a previous project eons ago to decern what can be improved. It can be difficult to focus on learning from the past when your mind is racing towards a future solution. However past successes and failures are key indicators of future success or failure, and learning lessons, both good and bad, are vital in enabling your organisation’s projects to be successful. A key way of ensuring you are consistently improving on the delivery of your project is through adequate quality assurance – having a clear, consistent and real-time view of how your projects will help set you up for future project success. There are many ways to do this, one of the easiest is through assurance tools that cut out the hard work, like FAST.

5. Focus on the process

From an organisation’s perspective, projects live or die by their outputs. Are benefits realised or not? Was the end result correct or did it fail to meet expectations? We frequently view projects as an (often costly) means to an important end. Of course, the end result is critical, however what shouldn’t be underestimated is the importance of the process the project has been on to get there. Are the stakeholders happy with the updates they are receiving? Are the Steering Committees unblocking issues and providing guidance, or are they just receiving an overdetailed update on a weekly basis? Improvements to your process also don’t need to wait until the end of a project, a critical breakdown, or a piece of negative feedback from your sponsor. Process improvements should be prioritised even for projects with a green RAG status. Continuous process improvement allows, not only one project to succeed, but sets the standards for all the projects that follow it.

Starting a new project can be exciting, confusing, interesting and stressful, often all at the same time. By prioritising your project setup, requirements and stakeholders you are giving your project its best chance of success from the outset.  By learning from your mistakes and focusing on the process, you are enabling continuous improvement throughout your project’s lifecycle. Project management is often an exercise in firefighting and it is highly unlikely this will ever not be the case! However, by focusing on the right areas those fires become much more manageable and you may even be able to save a cat or two from a tree.

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