Project Management Success Factors: Common Failures & How To Avoid Them

By Team Kantata

The success of a project is the result of many different decisions, people, tasks, communications, and unseen elements that affect the work of everyone involved.

Understanding the most common factors in project success, as well as what will likely lead to failure, will have positive impacts on your professional services organization.

The following examples of project management success factors will help you gain a better understanding of how effective project managers plan, communicate, manage risk, and successfully close projects.

Critical Success Factor Examples in Project Management

So much of a project’s success boils down to how well project management is executed across a set of important factors. These factors are typically referred to as Key Results Areas (KRAs) or Critical Success Factors (CSFs).

CSFs are activities that adhere to a high standard of quality, help you meet your project goals, and help you prioritize your tasks to meet your projected goals.

When implemented correctly, CSFs make it clear which steps your team needs to tackle first, and what they should pay close attention to. They also allow for better collaboration between team members.

Some critical success factor examples include:

1. Intensive Planning

Before starting a project, take the time to sit down for an extensive planning session, define your performance targets, come to a consensus about what a completed project looks like, and finalize your plan with your clients. Incorrect planning at project initiation may cause you to miss underlying issues or details that will cause problems further down the road.

2. Strategy

It’s tempting to get caught up in new technology or methods and overlook the strategic goal of the company and why you’re doing the project in the first place. Focus on best practices for project management first and build your strategy from there.

3. Clear Communication

Even the best project management success factors will fail without proper communication. Having candid and insightful conversations will increase buy-in from shareholders and employees alike, so that they will participate in achieving the goals your CSFs have defined. Take initiative and bring up any issues that arise with the project. Don’t leave them until the client points an issue out.

4. Actionable Results

Forget the buzzwords and offer concrete solutions to your clients with measurable benchmarks, performance targets, and a straightforward path to success that will be provided by the services and products created by your project. Providing an accurate timeline and achievable results — and then executing on those goals — will have a major impact on client satisfaction.

5. Collaboration

Thanks to today’s wealth of online communication tools, maintaining connections and reaching out to other professionals has never been easier. As project managers, you should implement collaboration right from the start, beginning at the planning stage of the project.

Teams that collaborate have better plans in place and are more engaged as they work towards project success. Successful collaboration also involves acting in unison and tracking the project to keep everyone on the same page, so make sure to leverage modern collaboration tools like a shared digital workspace or Gantt chart to help everyone stay informed and working in unison.

Collaborative Project Management

The practice of collaborative project management helps all team members to fully engage and contribute in a meaningful way to a successful project outcome. Critically, these practices also provide guidance for new and “accidental” project managers who lack formal project management training, but have been put in charge of a project due to larger circumstances.

The best collaborative project management practices include:

1. Plan Together

It is best to have the team who will deliver the project involved in planning. The quality of the resulting plan will be better and the engagement of all team members will be higher.

2. Act Together

Talented individual employees work even better when they are coordinated as a team. Project teams should know what is happening across a project and should know what they have to do to ensure project success.

3. Track Together

The extended team (project manager, team members, senior executives, customers, etc.) will need to track what is happening on the project in order to make informed decisions and adjustments to reach the best project outcome.

Main Causes of Project Failure

Projects fail to reach completion on time, within budget, or within scope for a variety of reasons. Not all project failures are directly the fault of the project manager, but there are key mistakes project managers should avoid and proactive steps to take to ensure a project doesn’t fall apart.

Here are some project failure factors to avoid as a project manager:

1. Failure to Plan Effectively

Although it’s an obvious step, effective planning is a project management success factor that simply can’t be overlooked. Effective project planning involves creating a comprehensive project proposal, setting a realistic time frame, estimating costs, determining milestones, documenting deliverables, and defining project scope. One way to help you plan effectively is to utilize a project management platform to keep you organized. Thorough planning ensures you make your deadlines, stay organized, and stay within your budget.

2. Disregarding Risk Management

When it comes down to it, we all know that projects don’t go as planned and regularly fail. If you don’t plan for setbacks, you are asking for disaster. Create a risk log with an action plan and keep it in a location where your team members and stakeholders have access to it. Keeping all your information in a central database will allow your team members to easily find information and help bring new members up to speed on projects. Having a solid risk management plan in place will also allow you to take immediate action if you see the warning signs of failure headed your way.

3. Inadequate Scope Document

An inadequate scope document, or complete lack of a scope document is often the reasons that projects fail — and it’s more common than you may think.

A full 75% of IT executives think their projects are doomed from day one because of constantly shifting scope.

Project managers are responsible for handling scope changes and asking whether the changes are necessary. When the scope of a project changes — and it will — project managers will need to consider how it may affect the timeline and budget of the finalized project and may need to approach the client to adjust the budget accordingly. Having an official scope document approved by the client that includes price changes in the event of the scope alterations will make this client conversation easier.

Ultimately, defining your project’s scope is something that should be accomplished during the planning and goal-setting stage of your project with a scope document. Defining how you will handle scope changes and how you will track them will help keep everyone — from team members to clients — on the same page when things inevitably change.

4. Not Selecting the Right People

While it’s the responsibility of your resource and recruiting departments to find the right people for the job, as a project manager, it is your responsibility to assign the right tasks to the right people and ensure you have a cohesive team. Assign team members to roles where they will excel and use your central resources to help keep everyone on the same page while you and your team pursue your project to completion.

Projects can experience difficulty or setbacks at any time, and if your team is not structured effectively, it will make your role as project manager significantly harder.

5. Lack of Communication

Poor communication leads to disaster and is frequently the reason for project failure. As a project manager, you are responsible for keeping your team well-informed, creating transparency, and encouraging team members to share their suggestions or concerns. When you’re working on a project, sticking to your timetable is essential for success. Proper communication between leaders and team members helps keep everyone informed on the progress of the project. It leaves little doubt as to what is required of each member, which will prevent unnecessary downtime between tasks that can hurt timelines.

If you have been part of a team that has struggled with communication in the past, be sure to implement a communication plan when you create your project plan to avoid issues from the start. Find a communication channel that works well for your team and stakeholders, and record past communications and errors so you can avoid them in the future. Don’t let your project fall apart simply because you failed to communicate effectively.

6. No Management Support

Before you ever start your project, make sure you have management support and buy-in. Projects that fail to have the support of management may never get approved, and even if they do, the project is much more likely to fail without the backing of the leadership team. This project failure factor is often caused by unclear project goals and a failure to define the value it adds or problem it solves for the business.

If you can’t define the value your project brings, it will be difficult to get sufficient funds allocated to the project. Additionally, other ongoing projects that require management support may also make it more difficult for a particular project to get the financial backing it needs because resources are dedicated to other areas and projects.

7. Weak Project Closure

Projects are not meant to drag on forever and they will drain your resources if you don’t establish a set of parameters for project closure. Finalizing a project involves establishing an agreement with your clients that you have met the critical success factors for the project and the project has been delivered, tested, and released according to client satisfaction. You might even ask your clients to complete a satisfaction survey to get feedback and help finalize the project further.

Make sure you know what a completed project looks like and establish milestones that will help you keep track of how a project is progressing. Milestones will also keep you abreast of any issues or delays as they happen and will let you know whether the project will be completed on time or if the current timetable cannot hit the agreed-upon deadline.

Another best practice for closing projects is to take care of the difficult aspects of the project as soon as possible. Don’t wait until crunch time to tackle a mountain of work that could have been done earlier.

Evaluate the Success of a Project

Before you throw in the towel and admit defeat, or cheer your success (it’s not all doom and gloom), take a look at your project and evaluate whether or not it was actually successful. In order to fully evaluate the success of any project, there are several specifics you should review so you can understand where you did well and where you can improve project performance in the future.

1. Scope

Did you stay within the scope of your project? If your scope changed, what changed and how did you handle and track those changes? Assess your project scope against your intended result to see if you were successful in this area and how future project scope documents should be written.

2. Budget

Determining whether you exceeded the budget, simply broke even, or successfully delivered a profitable project requires tracking spending as well as time. Taking longer on a project will push you over budget and may require you to bring in more expensive resources to complete the project. Also make sure to ask yourself if you overspent and if so, how much were you over? Be honest with yourself in your evaluation so you can determine where you failed to evaluate, where you went off budget, and how to prevent it in the future.

3. Schedule

Compare your initial schedule to your final timeline to know if you successfully delivered your project on time. One way to ensure this project success factor is to update your schedule weekly during the project to make sure you’re on track.

4. Satisfaction

Once your project is finally complete, you’re probably ready to move on to the next one (if you haven’t already). You can turn out tons of projects, but if the quality isn’t up to par, then your customer satisfaction is likely to be very low. This project management success factor helps you gain insight into how your team, customers, and stakeholders felt about the project. Do they have additional insight? Were they happy with the results? Were they fully supportive of the project? Take some time to evaluate how smooth your project delivery was and whether the final work met the expectations of your clients and shareholders.

Following these project management success factors and avoiding project failure factors will help project managers as they work with their teams, leaders, and shareholders to achieve project success.

There are a number of things that can go wrong with any project. Don’t let yourself get trapped by common project failure factors. Instead, focus on correct implementation, planning, and prioritizing critical success factors for stronger, faster, more predictable, and more profitable projects.

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