Monday 19 September 2016

101 reasons projects fail

Thanks to Ian Fry for pointing out this excellent site on project mistakes, and what we can learn from them.

The site is called "Why projects fail" and offers the following resources:
  • A blog of case studies 
  • A list of 101 common reasons for project failure, with the most common ones highlighted (such as Failure to establish a governance structure, Failure to identify or engage the stakeholders, Failure to communicate, Failure to address scope volatility or creep, and so on)
  • A catalogue of catastrophe; a list of major failed projects such as the airport on St Helena where it is too windy to land, the Los Angeles school iPad debacle, and the disastrous Denver Airport baggage handling system
  • An index of lessons
  • An analysis of classic mistakes
The main learning from this site is that implementing large projects in complex environments is uncertain and risky, and requires attention to many details, a lot of which are strongly influenced by human behaviours.

As knowledge managers, perhaps the most interesting analysis is of decision making. 9 of the 101 reasons for failure are related to decision making, and the first two are directly relevant to KM.

1.Key decisions (strategic, structural or architectural type decisions) are made by people who lack the subject matter expertise to be making the decision 
2.When making critical decisions expert advice is either ignored or simply never solicited 
3.Lack of “situational awareness” results in ineffective decisions being made
4.Failure to bring closure to a critical decision results in wheel-spin and inaction over extended periods of time
5.Team avoids the difficult decisions because some stakeholders maybe unhappy with the outcome
6.Group decisions are made at the lowest common denominator rather than facilitating group decision making towards the best possible answer
7.Key decisions are made without identifying or considering alternatives (aka “First Option Adoption“)
8.Decision fragments are left unanswered (parts of the who, why, when, where and how components of a decision are made, but others are never finalized) resulting in confusion
9.Failure to establish clear ownership of decisions or the process by which key decisions will be made results in indecision and confusion.

KM's role in avoiding project failure

Part of the purpose of Knowledge Management is to ensure that decision makers at all levels have access to the knowledge they need to make correct decisions, and so avoid the commonly known reasons for failure. We can help our organisations learning through introducing effective retrospectives and lesson learned systems that really work, and through periodic lesson analysis to create our own lists of common reasons for failure and our own knowledge asset on how to make projects successful.

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