Why Most Projects Run into Problems and How to Avoid them and What to do about it

Some Problems that Projects Face

Research has shown that nearly 80 percent of all projects run into problems related to cost overruns and time slippages in addition to many of them not being completed.

Without taking into account the projects that do not progress beyond the initiation and planning/conceptualization phase, it is indeed troubling for project managers to be harried about cost overruns, human resources issues, time slippages, and differences within the vendor organization as well as the with the client.

While some of these problems are due to poor communication as well as bad planning, others are due to improper implementation and flawed execution whereas the rest are due to human resource issues such as key people leaving the project or the organization midway.

All in all, nearly every project we have worked on during our corporate career had to contend with some or more of these problems including the very real aspect of project managers being worried whether the project would ever come to fruition and see the light of the day.

This means that project management is both an art and science where the art of balancing and the science of estimation and rigorous application of methodologies are needed in concert to take the project to successful completion.

Why Projects Run into Problems

This leads us to the question as to why most projects run into problems in the first place. In our experience, time slippages happen due to a variety of reasons including project creep, scope creep, poor planning and estimation, bad people management, and above all, due to factors beyond the control of the project manager such as the client organization cancelling or modifying the requirements midway as well as politics and other issues within the vendor organization itself.

Scope creep or project creep is the most common reason why projects are delayed wherein the initial requirements are often deemed not enough midway through the project either due to the client coming up with new requirements or the project team finding that it had not estimated the scope of the project appropriately.

As time equals money, any delivery slippage results in cost overruns over which disputes break out between the vendor and the client as to who would fund the shortfall due to the time and cost overruns.

Indeed, this can lead to the project being called off in the most extreme cases and hence, it is advisable for project managers to clarify and put down all the requirements with the clients accurately and in advance of each phase.

How Complex Projects are Managed

Often, projects also run into problems due to the competing interests and agendas of the various stakeholders. This is especially the case in manufacturing and construction projects such as the Metro Rail projects and the Olympic stadia constructions that happen in the various host countries.

This happens because the projects are complex requiring approvals and clearances from various agencies as well as being legally solid to withstand objections as well as lawsuits from the aggrieved parties.

Moreover, these types of projects often involve dealing with the governmental agencies which means that bureaucratic delays are often the reason for the problems. In addition, some of the more complex projects also run into problems because the concerned stakeholders have seen a change of guard and hence, have shifted their priorities because of which the project is no longer favored or even scrapped.

Apart from this, some projects also run into problems because the funding for them is stopped midway as well as the concessions and the subsidies accorded to them initially have been scrapped or lessened.

The Art and Science of Project Management

Thus, given all these factors, it is important for project managers to be iron-willed and stay firm in the midst of all these causes of problems. Indeed, in our experience, we have found that project managers have to be tough negotiators wherein they not only withstand the pulls and pressures from various stakeholders but also are firm with their team members in addition to being strong to resist the demands of various stakeholders.

Apart from this, project managers have to be scientific in their estimation and planning so that any loose ends due to factors beyond their control are taken into account or at least planned to some extent so that any overruns due to the “unknowns” are handled.

While it is impossible to plan for all exigencies, nonetheless, some amount of planning that is rigorous in nature can help prevent many of the problems that can crop up midway.

In addition, project managers have to exemplary people managers so that human resource issues are taken care of in a professional manner.

Further, project managers have to be politically astute to balance the various interests of multiple stakeholders that call for dexterity and proper management.

A Project is like a Symphony with the Project Manager being the Conductor

Considering all these aspects, some authors liken project managers to be akin to conductors in an orchestra wherein they wield the baton and ensure that the symphony is perfect in coordination with the all the players.

This means that while they are in charge of the overall score, they also need to ensure that the other players perform to their potential in addition to the need for all members to work as a unit.

To conclude, the best music happens when everyone is in sync and the project managers have to ensure that this happens not only initially but throughout the course of the project and then, be able to receive the applause of a well-deserved performance.


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