Project managers and their team members dread the prospect of failure because of its personal and professional implications. But while everything that can go wrong will go wrong in any project – it’s Murphy’s Law, after all – the best project managers adopt effective and efficient measures to avoid project failure.

Keep in mind that project failure can mean different things to the different stakeholders. Project failure can mean the failure to deliver based on the agreed quality, schedule and cost, it can be the failure to yield the desired positive results for the end users, or it can be the failure to complete the project.

Adopt a Proactive Approach

Experienced project managers have encountered their fair share of problems before, during and after project implementation. Their reservoir of knowledge and skills borne from years of project-related experience should be tapped into by their newbie counterparts.

If you are new to project management, you should ideally have an experienced mentor with whom you can discuss common problems and solutions related to project initiation, implementation, and evaluation. Your willingness to adopt a proactive approach will work to your benefit as a new project manager.

If you are already an experienced project manager, your best step in preventing project failure is to bear down all of your knowledge and skills toward it. You should be well aware by now about the following common causes for project failure, thus, providing you with the best opportunity to adopt a proactive approach to project planning.

  • Poor project initiation, usually resulting from the failure to gather information about the end users’ desired results, create a solid project plan, or to set realistic expectations with the customers, stakeholders, and team members.
  • Weak project control characterized by poor risk management, poor communication, and poor work planning.
  • Insufficient manpower or inappropriate skills among the staff, resulting in the deliverables being poorly done.
  • Failure to address issues, risks and threats at the right time, by the right people, and with the right methods
  • Failure to manage expectations for both the team in one hand as well as the customers, end users, and stakeholders on the other hand.

The bottom line: The more that you acknowledge that problems will occur, the more likely that you can implement preventive measures to avoid project failure.

Properly Initiate the Project

The first step is usually the most critical to project success, thus, emphasizing the importance of proper project initiation. You should avoid starting the project too soon with the goal of finishing it early, because it will backfire on you and your team.

Instead, you must adopt the necessary steps for proper project initiation. These steps include:

  • Discuss, understand and agree as well as document the expectations of all project stakeholders. Hold meetings with key stakeholders to determine their expectations of the team, to develop an agreed list of project requirements, and to discuss all the crucial aspects of the project from the timelines to the budgets.
  • Complete and agree on the project charter. Basically, a project charter is an official document that outlines the terms of the project including its scope, schedule and budget as well as key personnel.

Never ever start on a project without first setting realistic expectations among the involved parties.

Manage Project Goals

You are the project manager so it’s your job to manage the project, not let the project get the best of you and your team. Your ability to manage project goals in the following ways will likely mean the difference between failure and success:

  • Manage the project scope instead of controlling it.
  • Document every decision, action and result before, during and after the project implementation instead of relying on memory, understanding, and verbal agreements.
  • Give the end users/customers/stakeholders what they need instead of what they want.

Set Realistic Expectations from the Start

This is related to proper project initiation, but it usually goes deeper into the project implementation. You should set realistic expectations from the team members according to their abilities and capacities, while also challenging them to go out of their comfort zones.

The end users must also be made aware about their own expectations of the project and the team working on it. For example, you should update them about the status of the project in terms of progress, timeline, and budget. You will then be able to discuss with them risks, threats and issues to the project that, in turn, will contribute toward setting realistic expectations.

Negotiate the Solutions

Even when you have found the most effective and efficient solutions against the problems that can result in project failure, you should still negotiate the solutions with your team members. Keep in mind that you may be the project manager but you don’t possess all the knowledge and skills in the world – and that’s why you have a team of diverse professionals in place.

Negotiation may also more likely result in solutions that address the crucial needs and wants of all the stakeholders including the team members. The more invested all the people involved in the project are in its success, the more likely that success will be achieved.

  • Present the problem and your proposed solutions.
  • Show the stakeholders or team members the rationale for your proposed solutions including how these solutions can meet their needs.
  • Listen to their inputs and consider them for their merits instead of shooting them down for being apparently unorthodox, or any other reason.
  • Discuss the most viable solutions and agree about the best solution.
  • Aim high with the goal of expecting the best outcome; a positive attitude goes a long way in success.

Keep in mind that negotiations do not mean being a pushover. You are still the project manager, thus, you still have command responsibility over the success or failure of your team in relation to project accomplishment.

The most important tip in avoiding project failure is to plan well, execute the plan well, and evaluate your actions well. Ultimately, your team members and stakeholders will hold you accountable and responsible for your ability as a project manager – take the challenge now!