Successfully Failed Projects Are the Worst Kind of Project There Is

Traditionally, project and programme management has been guided by the “triple constraint” model, necessitating leaders to balance and weigh the opposing needs of budget, schedule and scope. Typically, leaders could only effect change in one or two of these areas. For instance, expanding the scope while reducing the timeframe would inevitably result in higher costs. Similarly, when limited budgets and timelines are involved, the scope would have to be restricted accordingly.

Previously, this practice led to the completion of projects that attained their technical and financial goals, with the scope being accomplished efficiently and as per budget. Nevertheless, meeting technical targets doesn’t ensure that a project will be useful to the business. Numerous IT managers have witnessed instances of a “successful failure” – satisfying the triple constraint criteria but ultimately being unable to meet strategic objectives or receiving rejection from end users.

Success and Failure in Definitions

A successful failure indicates achievement of an outcome that is accurately implemented, yet fails to solve the original issue, much like a house that is constructed properly but lacks aesthetic appeal.

Several factors can cause this breakdown, including but not limited to:

  • The project was focused on the wrong problem as the business challenge wasn’t identified clearly.
  • Owing to shifts in the external environment and market conditions, the solution originally proposed for the project is no longer adequate for meeting the company’s demands.
  • Problems concerning the execution of the project’s outputs were not taken into account, either owing to inadequate training or a combination of factors related to “change management.”
  • The project’s outcomes became mostly irrelevant as the end-user was provided with a more appealing alternative.
  • The initiative was unable to address a significant business challenge due to its emphasis on advanced technology.
  • If the project has the potential to disrupt someone’s livelihood, it can be anticipated to encounter resistance.

It is imperative for a leader to exercise the utmost caution and attention when evaluating the intricate and nuanced aspects of this project. Forming presumptions about the business problem and the proposed solution solely on the basis of a Project Charter presentation presented by a junior analyst that nobody has questioned, is inadequate.

The Prevention of Project Management Deadlocks

It can be argued that there is an overemphasis on the technical aspects of project management due to numerous accreditations and organizations that advocate various methodologies. Many IT experts possess the ability to oversee complicated projects and may be inclined to focus on familiar elements, such as work breakdown structures, scrum masters, and issue logs, instead of the more challenging task of comprehending the actual nature of a business problem and making tough decisions should an otherwise successful program become outmoded due to external changes.

While undertaking an IT project, it is crucial to guarantee that the appropriate problem is being resolved, instead of only introducing a temporary fix. This becomes even more relevant when dealing with new or untested technologies or suppliers who proclaim to have the solution without conducting sufficient investigation.

In today’s world, locating employees, collaborators, and suppliers who can execute projects proficiently, economically, and punctually has become simpler due to the established procedures of software development and project management. Regardless of the potential of the technology or the availability of funding, as leaders, it is crucial that we invest time in researching the rationale behind any project that we agree to undertake.

It is simple to ignore the significance of comprehending a problem thoroughly prior to discussing potential solutions and financing them. Although conversations about the practical aspects of a project can be exciting, it is crucial to guarantee that all essential groundwork has been undertaken. This can be challenging since it necessitates stopping the forward momentum and revisiting the work already done. Fortunately, this is where sturdy leadership plays a crucial role.

Replace the Charter with a Problem Statement and Continuous Evaluation.

An effectively formulated project charter can provide insight into any potential hurdles to advancement. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon for charters to be hurriedly compiled to satisfy formal obligations. In such scenarios, substituting a problem statement can be more advantageous since it can precisely describe the business problem that the project is seeking to resolve. Furthermore, organizing monthly evaluations that require stakeholders to justify the problem statement can guarantee that the process remains effective.

While drafting the document, it is advantageous to take into account any changes in the market or environment that could make the problem statement no longer applicable. For instance, if the company were to be purchased, or if the price of cloud services fell below a particular threshold, it could render a significant technological unification project redundant.

By comparing your work against the problem description and the potential ‘failure modes’, you could recognize a ‘successful failure’ early on, while there’s still an opportunity to redirect your efforts. Although this may necessitate a significant level of maturity on the part of the leader, if the problem statement was meticulously created and conveyed, it can act as a ‘timeout signal,’ saving time and resources that would have been otherwise wasted on pausing and potentially discontinuing the project.

It is wise for management to be ready for probable ‘successful failures’ and to possess the capability to minimize their consequences. This serves a dual objective, as it not only saves money by terminating the funding of a project that is not yielding benefits but also eliminates the need to invest in expensive new systems and procedures.

No leader relishes overseeing a project that fails, particularly if it occurs months or years after the project has concluded due to inaction. To avoid this from occurring and to guarantee that resources are channeled towards where they are most required, it is crucial to plan beforehand and establish a problem statement.

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