The Number One Reason That Projects Fail – And How To Avoid It

Posted on August 11, 2021

If you heard about a project that came in a year late, twice its original budget, and every single major player swore that they would never work with the person in charge ever again, you’d assume that that was a failed project.

Well, it may surprise you to find out that that project was actually the film Titanic, and I think we can all safely say that as a project it was a success. Just because it came in over budget and overtime doesn’t mean to say it failed.

When we talk about failed projects, it’s more important to consider whether or not it delivered business benefits. Titanic was a success because it delivered business benefits.

So how do we stop projects from not delivering on business benefits, and therefore failing?

Why do they fail?

The first stage is to make sure that your project is solving the right problem. Far too often in businesses we see people implementing a project because they have spare budget, or because it sounds like a good idea, or they have been sold the idea by another company. Don’t just do a project for the sake of it.

How to succeed

What needs to be done as an organisation is to put in place an understanding of how to create projects that deliver benefits. This means first acknowledging where the problems exist in the organisation at this moment. Next, you need to uncover the root causes for these problems, not just attempt to solve the symptoms.

From there, it can be decided where the organisation wants to be in the future, bringing light to the gap between where the organisation is now and where it wants to be. Once you have a clear view and understanding of this gap, you can decide on and design the best technique to bridge that gap. A well-crafted business case is key to this.

Creating a business case

When you are creating this business case, you need to ensure clear stakeholder involvement in addition to well thought through solutions. As a Business Analyst, it is not your job to tell your organisation which is the right solution. Your job is to present several solutions to them and let them have the choice.

Once the project has been completed, it’s then necessary to engage in a business benefits realisation process. Without this, you are just assuming that the benefits were achieved. When you undertake this process you’re able to categorically prove if the benefits were achieved or not – and if not, what lessons can be learned for the future.

It’s a safe bet for us to say that many of you reading this will have been involved in a post project review that focused on how the project was run, but didn’t touch on whether or not the project achieved the benefits that you had hoped for.

Get off on the right foot

There is no point in starting a poorly conceived project. For a number of organisations this may be the default, and it is the path to failure.

A lot of time is spent making the project deliver within budget, but if that project is the wrong project then the question to ask is this: would that time have been better spent choosing the right project in the first place?

As a Business Analyst, it can be easy to land in the mindset of “How does this apply to me as a BA? I have no say in how my company chooses its projects”.

The next time a project goes astray due to poorly conceived ideas, it may be your chance to speak up and say “We should be thinking how to start better projects, rather than trying to solve them when they’re going wrong”.

The best way to avoid failure of a project is to start it the right way.

To get your projects off on the right foot, we recommend the BCS Business Analysis Practice qualification – click here to learn more.

Download the Business Analysis Certifications Guide

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