While project management-types usually don't stay in the industry for long before witnessing a project crash-and-burn firsthand, the ability to accurately identify and clearly articulate the proximate cause of that project failure is often elusive, with individual prejudices coloring analysis. Quality engineers tend to name a lack of quality capability as the main reason behind project failure, while estimators tend to believe inaccurate cost baselines or estimates at completion are the culprits.
I have a pretty clear idea of the main, if not only, cause of project failure, but before I name it, let me tell you what it isn't:
• No Six Sigma
• Lack of Agile project management
• Failure to engage stakeholders (see my previous post)
• Inappropriate leadership style
• Too few Project Management Professional (PMP®) credential holders
• Insufficient procedures or written guidance
I could go on, but this list should be sufficient to contradict the majority of management writers who are asserting the key causal factor in project failure.
So, what is the main causal factor? The project manager and/or project team made bad decisions.
This is not simply a semantic difference. The ability to make good decisions is absolutely critical to any and all project outcomes, including the ability to meet success criterion. This ability is influenced by several factors, including:
• The education/capability of the project team
• Some level of luck, certainly, but mostly:
• The availability of adequate project cost and schedule performance information, which almost always clarifies the best project decisions
So important is the generation and delivery of cost and schedule performance information that any manager who eschews such information has automatically signaled their incompetence, and inappropriate placement in any position of authority.
I'm essentially calling out the anti-cost/schedule performance system crowd. (You know who you are.) If you have ever argued against the introduction of an earned value system on principle, stop calling yourself a project manager because you aren't one. Of course, I'd love to hear from anyone disagreeing with me on this, so, please leave a comment.