Project post-mortems tend to get short shrift in the fast-paced business world. Project managers and teams barely catch their breath before moving on to the next goal. But looking back can be invaluable. In studying myriad details of completed projects, the University of Virginia’s IT program is uncovering common causes of failure, and identifying ways to improve tomorrow’s projects.

As he closes in on his 100th project management retrospective, Professor Ryan Nelson can rattle off the top three project management mistakes without stopping to catch his breath: “Lack of estimation and scheduling; ineffective risk management; ineffective stakeholder management,” he says. “All of the 12 classic mistakes involve people and process, not technology or product.”
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Projects@Work - Lessons In The Rearview Mirror

From India , Mumbai

I have done some limited research into the root causes of success of technology projects. None are technical. The short report follows.

Summary of Appreciative Interviews about Successful Technology Projects

The root causes of success are “soft”. They are about the management of the project.
  • Arrive at the contract between supplier and customer via exploration, testing, conversation and dialogue. This builds mutual trust.
  • Broadcast your successes as you go.
  • Communication is critical for the success of projects. To do it well enough takes time, imagination, thought and planning.
  • Create a strong and supportive multifunctional team that meets regularly and talks openly. If possible make sure the core team is small.
  • Commitment from everyone involved is crucial. This takes time and frequent and detailed conversations.
  • Engage with the key people very early on in the project. Involve everybody as it progresses but encourage them to keep things simple and focus their energy.
  • Find outstanding people, they exponentially increase your chances of rapid progress.
  • Focus on getting the job done and disregard cultural, hierarchical or bureaucratic barriers. Make and use informal contacts to get things done.
  • Give people the opportunity to learn about and test the system before it goes live.
  • Have a champion or champions for the project. Make sure they always know what is going on.
  • Have a clear, agreed and intrinsically meaningful goal for the project. This is worth the time and detailed discussions it takes.
  • Have a skilled and experienced project manager with the authority to manage the project.
  • Have resource limits and deadlines that make people use their imagination to meet the goal.
  • Have some limited margin for requirements that change, as people understand more clearly what the project requires. See change as inevitable and an opportunity to be smarter.
  • IT may have the idea but it essential that the business sees the benefits and owns the project.
  • Learn rapidly from successes and problems. Use your learning for the present project and later ones.
  • Make sure you get buy in from everybody involved by actively listening to and responding to their concerns and suggestions.
  • Maintain constant and open dialogue between all the stakeholders in the project.
  • Test concepts in a small way by demonstrating them first.
  • Make sure everybody knows what their role in the project is and how their job will contribute to the success of the project.
  • Define the scope of the project early and resist project creep.

These root-causes lead to successful projects, which happen on time and to budget, work and make or save money. You reported feeling fabulous, vindicated, relieved, chuffed, excited, pleased, marvellous and “drunk” when you achieved success.

Next steps

It is very surprising that although these conclusions appear obvious and none desperately difficult, still only 16% of technology projects succeed. We are still not sure why this number is so low. However, one thing was quite clear from all the people who participated in our small study. All of you wanted your project to succeed and had this as a personal priority.

If the readers of this have any comments, I would be glad to have them. :smile:

From United Kingdom , Worthing
In my last research paper on knowledge management, we tried to study the dynamics of knowledge in organizations. In this particular situation, I feel one needs to distinguish between lessons learnt by and for the individual and, lessons learnt by and for the institution.
In my opinion, this differentiation is important in the context. The institution may or may not be learning from the experience. However, the individual, in most cases, does learn and uses it to 'condition' himself so as to benefit from the institution. The latter can mean positive and negative implications.
You are right on the aspects. However, the extent of learning of institutions is an aspects that comes under the purview of the management or leadership and is actually important for their taking personal initiative in making it work. This initiative can only work top-down. Incidentally, I have seen that most projects are tied to good top-down practices... I am yet to see one that is bottoms-up!

From United States , Daphne

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