How many times have you been involved in what was billed as a crucial project, only to see it fall at the first hurdle? For many businesses in the private and public sector, juggling numerous projects at any given time can lead to even those initially tipped as the ‘next big thing’ falling by the wayside, as team members struggle to prioritise and see projects through to their conclusion. Over time, multiple project failures can lead to a dangerous culture developing within a business, as team members adopt a ‘why bother, it will never happen anyway’ mentality. With too many different projects to manage, there is also a risk that a lack of resources, and clear and communicated priorities, could lead to new – and genuinely important – projects not being given the attention they demand.
With such a variety of external and internal pressures at play, how can businesses best negotiate the project management minefield to avoid leaving key projects unfinished at the expense of the company or the client? And, is there ever a justification to simply admit that you are not really ready for a project?
Issues inherent in large-project management
Even when a business has the best intentions to see a project through and a high calibre team in place to carry it out, things can still go wrong if resources are stretched to breaking point. When projects have failed to reach maturity in the past, due to intentional or unintentional stalling, or lack of communication between team members, a culture of ‘blocking’ can develop, and this is, of course, something you will want to avoid.
Issues can also arise if the relative importance of a project is misjudged by key team members. With multiple projects in play, it is easy for people to misunderstand the relevance of a project and instead focus their attentions on a venture that is of less value to the company. Also, if different parts of the project are being completed on vastly different timescales, the overall cohesion of the enterprise will suffer as a result. For some particularly time-sensitive projects, there is also the risk that failing to implement in a timely fashion will lead to it becoming irrelevant as the world may have already moved on.
Communication issues within a company or team are, therefore, one of the main reasons for projects stalling or failing to come to fruition. An example of this is that while keeping in touch with all concerned via email is important throughout a project, numerous email threads and attachments can potentially lead to important messages and documents being overlooked due to the sheer volume of communication traffic. Team members waiting for others to respond, or those delaying the process by getting too involved in the detail can all contribute to the slowing of pace.
With so many potential issues and risks inherent in taking on a new project, it is important to assess whether you and your company are really ready to take on the new task at all. And if you are, it’s all the more important to have a robust communication and scheduling strategy in place so everyone knows what they are required to do and when, and which tasks genuinely take priority.
Going through the necessary reality check
Before taking on a new project, performing an in-depth analysis of your businesses current workload will help you to assess which ventures are of the highest priority and which can be reassessed and reprioritised in order to make room for new work. After taking on a new project it is then vital to watch out for any early warning signs that it may be stalling so that you can deal with them in a timely manner.
Spotting the business behaviours that are blocking your projects
Recognising and confronting problematic behaviour within your team is crucial to securing a stable future for your new projects. If the project begins to stall or it appears that it is being blocked, it is important to seek out the source of these problems swiftly. Be aware that though the project may be being blocked by people further down, or even up, the organisation, sometimes the issue could even be coming from you. So don’t forget a little self-analysis when looking for ways to progress your stalled projects.
Some of the most prevalent business behaviour issues that could derail your project plans are as follows:
Procrastination is something that needs to be both anticipated and addressed when discovered to prevent it from spreading throughout a team or an organisation. No matter whether you are in the private or public sector, there will be those around you who are nervous about handling the big questions, preferring instead to focus their efforts on the less important issues. As complex problems are left to fester, this could seriously damage a project’s schedule and viability. Keeping track of, and informing all team members about the progress of a project, and their specific responsibilities and expectations, are, therefore, paramount to keeping it in forward motion.
Lack of communication
Leading on from procrastination, lack of communication within a team can potentially lead to the breakdown of a project. If team members are not regularly updated with status to specific goals and actions, performance can easily slide and team members may lose sight of their responsibilities. If communication fails, it may also lead to deadlines being missed and as a result, more wasted expenditure for your organisation.
Expensive outlays can also be caused by poor planning and a lack of structural support from the top down. If the project has not been thought through properly, then people further down the organisation will not fully understand what is expected of them, which may lead to poor choices being made or money and time being wasted. Organisation and clarity are key to ensuring the success of any new project.
Creative solutions for avoiding such disruptive behaviour
As with all business ventures, being realistic about a project’s timescale is fundamental to its success. Without this deadlines can slip, potentially on multiple occasions, which may mean crucial work is left incomplete or is abandoned altogether by team members who start to believe it can’t have been that important in the first place – all the more so if missed deadlines are not immediately addressed by management.
Having a comprehensive project plan, especially when dealing with concurrent multiple projects, is also an important coping strategy. Multiple project timeline management, at a sophisticated level using bespoke software or at a simpler team level by regularly updating a whiteboard, can clarify matters for all involved and make everyone aware of their unique responsibilities. It’s important that this is an identifiable action and not a general task. So identifying the next action point is very beneficial, and it also ensures everyone knows who has responsibility for it. For example, when a business case needs to go before the board… is this the next action? Is it on your desk ready to go, or do you have to complete it quick smart? Worse still, do you need to get some information from others to include in it? So what is the next action point?
A clear overview is also crucial and can be achieved by creating a comprehensive assessment of a new or struggling project. Businesses must be aware of the danger of turning this into another opportunity for procrastination, and it is imperative that the major milestones necessary to complete a project, or to get it back on track, are established so momentum can be resumed.
Finally, there are times when it may make financial sense to delay a project, or even abandon it completely, in order to save your organisation from unnecessary expenditure on a path that, whether through lack of time, resources, commitment or talent simply has no prospect of successful completion. Only through a detailed analysis of the problems and blockages that exist can such a decision be made.