Why do our projects not succeed?
Toward the end of last week, I completed a corporate training for UCSD Extension at a major San Diego/US defense contractor. They were taking the final exam, so I covered some short topics to generate discussion rather than cover new material. I showed them the results of industry studies by organizations such as Standish Group and Meta Group. I showed them academic results from studies by Jiang and Klein as well as Thomas and Mullaly. I shared the PMI Pulse of the Profession® research.
The bottom line? Over two decades of research have shown that lack of user/sponsor involvement and poor requirements elicitation and management are among the top ten, if not the top two, causes of project failure. And although we saw some earlier improvements when this was identified, we're still looking at two-thirds of projects not meeting all their goals and achieving the expected success. I asked them "why"? I'd like to share a short, combined list (theirs and mine) for your consideration (and possible action!):
- Not enough PM education and training offerings: Just a couple of days later I came across this article by Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez, Chairman of PMI: Why Project Management has been Ignored by Senior Leaders. Antonio is looking at the global problem top-down. Here in Escondido and San Diego, I'm looking at it from the bottom up - education in the US is failing at all levels. The OECD PISA results typically place the US well below the OECD average in most subjects, meaning there are approximately 40 countries ahead of us. Enrollments in adult and continuing education classes are soaring both due to investment in community colleges and the high cost of a 4-year and advanced degree college education. While I'm proud to be a part of San Diego Continuing Education, demand is still high and SDCE's program is a terminal program - 120 hours of basic PM education, but no follow on programs outside of Small Business. UCSD Extension provides a pathway to an MS in Project Management. There is still plenty of room for additional PM education and training. San Diego County is also a large territory. Most offerings are in mid-county and south, with a distinct shortage of programs in North County.
- Too many accidental PMs: I'm finding my continuing education classes are filled with accidental PMs. We are placing people in an important, responsible, and accountable position, but not providing education or training. As a result, many fail or flounder, and some seek ways to improve. Many are in my classes "on their own dime" - their employers are not providing funding. If we keep taking the same steps and doing the same things, how can we realistically expect different results?
- Huge tolerance for waste and quality issues: Long before there was "Lean", "Agile", and "Six Sigma", I was trained to look for waste and inefficiency and provide high quality, lasting solutions. I learned to write computer programs in 8K of usable space on a system that filled half a room. At night in the dorms, my fellow students and I would scrutinize our programs together and cheer when we were able to reduce space and make them run faster. I made my first professional dollar helping my professors take their programs written on larger industry systems and re-organize them to work on the college system. When I started my 20-year career at GE, I carried the idea of no waste and high quality with me. I carried it into all projects I've worked on or managed over the last 35-40 years, regardless of the industry. But today, I work with and observe organizations that routinely waste millions for lack of a PM discipline and a focus on eliminating waste and poor quality. This waste comes in two forms: unrecoverable, wasteful costs, and reduced revenues due to poor quality. Without a focus on these areas, projects do not produce the expected results.
- Too busy running the business/too busy investing in other areas: The most successful organizations I've worked with, including PMI, have both a long term and a short term strategic plan. But I regularly encounter organizations with none. When I ask, I'm told they are "too busy" or "there's too much change for us to see more than 6-12 months ahead". Project Management? Not high on the list, despite years of research demonstrating the value. I'll repeat it again: If we keep taking the same steps and doing the same things, how can we realistically expect different results? We need to take the time for better planning and quality decision making to allow our organizations to succeed.
So I think we still have more "whys?" to go through, but this is a candidate list for a second "why". Have more ideas to contribute and causes to identify? Please leave a comment.
[This article was originally published 4 December 2016]
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