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Project Management 1

Assignment One

Project Failure and Success Factors


Malcolm Boadle


I declare that this assignment is based on my own work and that all material
previously written or published in any source by any other person has been duly
acknowledged in this assignment.

This paper begins by comparing the attributes of a project with the day to day work of
the enterprise and then examines different enterprise structures to see what effect
these can have on projects and their management. Building on this foundation, some
of the factors that have been found to contribute to the success and failure of a project
are explored.

When the Scottish Poet Robert Burns wrote the famous lines The best laid
schemes o mice an men Gang aft agley, An leae us nought but grief an pain For
promised joy (Burns, 1785), his subject was a mouse that had been dug up by a
plough. In a more modern context, projects in spite of careful planning can fail to
deliver their expected outcomes. Planning alone does not guarantee project success.
This paper begins by examining what makes a project different from other day to day
endeavours, explores how an organisations existing structure, systems and culture can
affect a project and then researches the factors that have been found to make a project
succeed and why a project can fail.

What is a Project and why is it different from other work?

A large portion of our working lives are engaged in ongoing repetitive activities that
are variously called, routine work (TenStep, 2000-2003), process work (Thomsett and
Thomsett, 2000) or operations (Project Management Institute [PMI], 2000). This type
of work can be identified by a number of characteristics. It repeats over a period of

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time, it is predictable and may be documented in procedures, it has defined

performance standards and measurements and it forms the backbone of the
existing organisation operating within the existing organisation status-quo
(Thomsett and Thomsett, 2000).

In contrast, a project is seen as a finite piece of work (i.e. it has a beginning and an
end) (Butterick, 2000) or temporary. The Project Management Institute clarifies its
use of the word temporary to mean finite and not implying that a project is
necessarily of short duration or the product or service created by the project is
temporary (PMI, 2000).

A project creates a unique product, service or result (PMI, 2000) and is a novel
undertaking (Wideman, 2000). Even though individual tasks within a project may be
common to other projects, the project itself produces a unique result. To give an
example, even though many different enterprises may start projects to implement a
software package such as an ERP System from the same vendor, the results of these
projects will be unique (at a level of detail) to that enterprise, its business processes
and people. This will be true even though many of the tasks within the project may be
contained within a common implementation methodology used by the ERP vendor.

Projects normally have assigned resources (TenStep 2000-2003) of labour, materials,

funds and Wideman concurs with the Project Management Institute that Projects are
typically constrained by limited resources (Wideman, 2000), (PMI,2000). Butterick
specifies that a project is undertaken within defined cost and time constraints

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(Butterick, 2000). The constraint of resources is also common to a businesses

operations or process work (PMI, 2000).

A project consists of a group of interrelated tasks (Thomsett and Thomsett, 2000)

which are Planned executed and controlled (PMI, 2000). Again in operations or
process work, businesses normally exercise planning and control over the execution
of their routine operations as well as their projects but unlike the operations or process
work, Thomsett and Thomsett (2000) note that projects are often difficult to measure
and evaluate.

Butterick considering a project in a business environment, notes that a project is

directed at achieving a stated business benefit (Butterick, 2000) whilst the Project
Management Institute takes this to a higher level and sees the project used as a
means of achieving an organizations strategic plan (PMI, 2000). The project as an
agent of change is highlighted by Thomsett and Thomsett (2000) as the key to the
difference between process and project work.

Organisational Structure, Culture and the Project

As discussed in the previous section, project related work is essentially different to the
routine or process work that forms a large part of many peoples working lives. This
repetitive work often occurs in process culture that gives rise to a factory mentality
where the routine tasks are subjected to studies (such as time and motion) to optimise
efficiency. This process culture is typically supported with a rigid hierarchical
organisational structure (based along functional lines) that can lead to individual units

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operating in isolation and working on their own survival rather than towards wider
corporate goals (Thomsett, 1993).

The organisation structure, culture and management systems can directly affect the
way a project proceeds and affect the project managers authority. The range of
organisational structures from totally functional with rigid hierarchies through matrix
structures and project based is discussed in detail in the Project Management Institutes
PMBOK guide. It is asserted that in a functionally based organisation, a project
manager will have little authority when managing a cross functional project and this
will limit the scope of the project to the boundary of the function. The title for the
project manager role may also reflect this as Project Coordinator or Project
Leader. On the other hand, in a totally project based organisation the project
manager will have a high level of independence and authority and the team will often
be collocated. (PMI, 2000)

Matrix structures can be further classified as weak (tend to be more functionally

organised), strong (tend to be more organised around projects) and balanced which
may enjoy the best (and worst) of both worlds (PMI, 2000). The matrix can be an
effective structure for organisations that need to retain a relatively stable
functional structure while taking advantage of a cross-functional project
approach. However, where an organisation has incompatible line and project
processes or where management controls are unsuitable the matrix structure may not
work and give rise to confusion. (Butterick, 2000).

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What is a successful project?

At its most basic level, project success is seen as finishing project deliverables on
time, on budget and to a quality grade (Greer, 1999). Thomsett, following extensive
study of 20 failing projects over a period of 18 years, expands this criteria of success
as, satisfies stakeholder groups, meets requirements, meets quality expectations /
requirements, within cost [paid, unpaid and business expert costs], within deadline,
delivers sustained and actual benefits and provides the team with professional
satisfaction and learning (Thomsett, 2002).

This expanded list notes factors such as unpaid and unrecorded hard work. In my
experience, even though the current project may be seen to succeed through this
hidden work, this often causes problems when a similar project is undertaken. The
concept of estimating based on previous experience is unreliable if actual labour hours
have been understated.

An initially surprising addition to the list is the last one that deals with the teams
professional satisfaction and learning, but a project that fails to consider this may
be faced with a demoralised project team or even unacceptable staff turnover.

What makes a Project Succeed or Fail?

Thomsett in the paper Project Pathology, discusses the many factors that can cause a
project to fail. In conclusion he proposes that the easy test for a failing project is to
request that it stops. If the reply is something like We cant stop the project for

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planning, we have a deadline to meet! he suggests that the project is heading for
disaster (Thomsett, 2002).

This underlies a critical project activity, planning. Greer states that Planning is
everything and ongoing and expands this by saying that planning and
replanning must be a way of life for project managers (Greer, 1999).

Planning in

projects cannot be a do once and forget activity. Due to the dynamic nature of many
projects, the plan must be regularly revisited. If the plan does not exist or is not kept
up to date, Butterick comments that it is meaningless to talk about projects being
early, late or within budget (Butterick, 2000).

How much planning is enough? The level of planning should reflect the complexity
of the project a complex project may need extensive planning while simple projects
can manage with less. Inadequate planning can ...predispose a project to failure.
Over planning can delay the start and finish of the project (Kulik, 1997).

Butterick encourages a holistic approach to planning which includes schedule, cost,

scope and expected benefits that are refined in light of resource constraints and
business risk (Butterick, 2000).

The planning and realisation of business benefits with project deliverables that are
designed to meet a thoroughly documented need is seen as a contributing factor to
project success. Greer further notes that management should insist that projects are
based on documented business need before consuming organisational resources in its
execution (Greer, 1999).

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The planning and control of project scope is important to avoid higher costs and late
delivery (Butterick, 2000). Scope can be viewed as a boundary on what the project is
responsible for achieving (Thomsett and Thomsett, 2000) and can be affected by a
poorly controlled input of good ideas or good intentions (Butterick, 2000).

Well defined requirements are an important input into the scope management process.
Melymuka documents a project that was budgeted to take three months effort for five
people ended up requiring 30 people for over a year. In this project the initial
requirements were poorly specified, requirements changed and the scope of the
project grew on a daily basis (Melymuka, 2000).

Moad reports common problems with many high profile IT projects which fail.
Managers with poor knowledge and limited experience of running major IT projects
and over ambitious or impossible requirements appear to be a common problem. He
concludes that IT Managers must protect their organisations from making
expensive and damaging mistakes and learn how to say no (Moad, 1998).

The management of change in the project is a critical success factor. (Thomsett ,

2002). A formal method of recording change requests, assessing the effect of the
change on the project and a change approval process are required to control ad-hoc
additions and changes to the project originating from various sources (Butterick,

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Management of Risk in a project is another element of successful projects. Risk

management should begin during project planning and identify risks that can cause
problems later in the project. As part of risk management, successful projects also
need to identify concrete actions that will avoid risks becoming problems. (Kulik,
1977). Due to the novel nature of projects, risks will vary from project to project.
In the case of a successful project at the MS Society to replace, external risks of nondelivery by multiple external suppliers were addressed by a strategy meeting midway
through the project where any misunderstandings between vendors in terms of
needs and expectations, were ironed out (Cameron, 2002).

Some risks can never be totally eliminated and they may change during a project, but
ongoing well thought out risk assessment and risk mitigation strategies together with
risk contingencies in the project budget are required to avoid unpleasant project

Many of the success factors considered so far are included in what the Project
Management Institute defines as Project Management Processes. These processes
describe, organise and complete the work of the project and are distinct from the
processes called Product-oriented which specify and create the projects
product. (PMI, 2000). Processes are applied at different phases or stages in a project.
The Project Management Institute defines process groups each of which include one
or more processes. Initiating processes applied at the beginning of the project and at
each phase are used to authorise work. They form part of scope management.
Planning processes are concerned with objective definition and the selection of
alternative actions to achieve the objectives. Executing processes are used to

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coordinate human and other resources to carry out the plan. Controlling processes
are used to monitor and measure progress against the plan to make sure that the
objectives are met. Closing Processes are applied at the end of a phase and at the end
of the project and formalise acceptance (PMI, 2000).

Butterick summarises the results of a benchmarking study into project success factors
across a wide range of industries into ten lessons learned. One of these lessons is to
Use the same, simple, and well defined framework, with a staged approach in all
circumstances. Constantly using the same staged approach minimises confusion and
the need for re-learning for people connected with the project. The staged approach
allows planning of the next stage in detail while further stages are planned in
summary form. Separating each stage is a decision point or gate. The gate allows for
quality control checks, prioritization and a point from which to plan forward.
Traditionally the gate ends each phase. Some organisations use the gate as an entry
point to the next phase which allows phases to overlap (start before the previous phase
has finished) without increasing risk (Butterick, 2000).

Turning attention now to the people that make up a project, the project owner or
sponsor and the relationship between the project manager and the sponsor have been
shown to be critical to the success of the project. The sponsor is the person who is
ultimately responsible for the project and plays a key role in the review and approval
of the business case for the project. The sponsor, who is focussed on the business
outcomes of the project should review project progress and approve major changes to
the business case. The sponsor must also assist the project manager to resolve
conflicts between the stakeholders (who often want to grow the scope or modify the

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objectives) and the project team. While the project manager should attempt resolution
by negotiation, if this fails to reach consensus, then the sponsor must have the
appropriate level of organisational authority and financial authorisation to quickly
resolve the issue so that the project can continue. Thomsett, states his case succinctly
Simply, a project without the appropriate degree of executive sponsorship will
fail. (Thomsett, 2000).

Mahony notes that poor management role alignment in the enterprise may cause
project failure. In particular the alignment of Responsibility Who is doing the job,
Accountability - Who owns the task and has to explain the success or failure and
Authority Who has the power to control, enable or prohibit a task. This
becomes particularly important when projects cross existing functional lines
(Mahony, 2000).

Another key person in the project is of course the project manager. Melymuka claims
that excellence in project management depends on certain innate characteristics
simply great project managers seems to be born, not made (Melymuka, 2000a).
The project leader should be able to inspire a shared vision, communicate with people
at all levels in the project, demonstrate integrity by embracing ethical practices, lead
with enthusiasm, display empathy towards the people of the project, display
competence (know what they are doing), delegate tasks, be cool under pressure,
possess team building skills and have excellent problem solving skills (Barry, 2000).
At times project leaders must exhibit extraordinary energy levels, phenomenal
political skills and an absolute obsession with results (Melymuka, 1977).

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And finally to the project team who as part of the shared vision communicated by the
project manager, must display focus and enthusiasm for the tasks at hand.

Like Robert Burns in 1785, the best-laid schemes (plans) are necessary for project
success but alone are not sufficient. A successful project requires management of a
diverse set of project resources within a framework.

Over time there have been lessons learned (sometimes due to project failure) which
now give the participants in new projects tried and tested techniques to reach a
successful outcome for the project.

In spite of this, projects will grapple with issues that are unexpected even with the
best planning available. As project sponsors, managers and team members we must
ultimately heed the Lessons of the Apollo 13 mission and Prepare for the
unexpected, Improvise when required, Take risks, Never consider defeat and
continue to learn whatever the final project outcome (Learning the Lessons of Apollo
13, 2001).

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Barry, T (2000): Top 10 Qualities for a Project Leader, ESI Horizons, June, included
in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Burns, Robert (1785): To a Mouse,
Butterick ,R (2000): The Interactive Project Workout (second edition), Pearson
Education Limited, London (FT Prentice Hall), ISBN 0 273 64436 X
Cameron, F (2002): The Dream Project, MIS Australia, June 2002, included in the
Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Greer, M (1999): 14 Key Principles for PM Success, excerpt from Chapter 6,
Handbook of Human Performance Technology, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass. Included
in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Kulik, P (1977): Software Project Success Factors, included in the Project
Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Learning the Lessons of Apollo 13 (2001), included in the Project Management 1
Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Mahoney, J (2000): Identify misaligned roles that cause project failure, Gartner,
TechRepublic, September 13th, included in the Project Management 1 Readings,
Australian Computer Society.
Melymuka, K (1997): Top Guns, Project Management, Computer World, October
20th, included in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Melymuka, K (2000): The Crucible, Computer World, November 6th, included in the
Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Melymuka, K (2000a): Born to Lead Projects, Computer World, March 27th, included
in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Moad, J (1998): Grounding those high-flying IT projects, ZDNet, July 17th, included
in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Project Management Institute [PMI] (2000): A guide to the Project Management
Body of Knowledge, Newtown Square. Australian Edition published by Standards
Australia International Limited, ISBN 0 7337 4455 9
Thomsett, R (1993): A Tale of Two Cultures, included in the Project Management 1
Readings, Australian Computer Society.

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Thomsett, R (2002): Project Pathology, Causes, patterns and symptoms of project

Thomsett, R (2000): Getting the Sponsor You Need, included in the Project
Management 1 Readings, Australian Computer Society.
Thomsett, R and Thomsett, C (2000): The Busy Persons Project Management Book,
TenStep (2000-2003): TenStep Project Management, 1.0.1 What is a Project?,
Wideman, R.M. (2000): First Principles of Project Management, AEW Services,
Vancouver, BC, January, included in the Project Management 1 Readings, Australian
Computer Society.

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