5 Project Management Techniques to Avoid Project Failure

Published: Dec 04, 2013
Modified: May 20, 2020


Failure is everywhere. Daily brings more headline news of some project that has had huge cost over runs, is missing key functionality, is months (sometimes years) late, or all three. Although we seem to hear more about public sector projects, that is a result of the level of transparency required in the public sector. Companies have a much better chance of being able to keep their issues out of the nightly news. No project, be it public or private, appears to be immune.

Solving this problem requires both management and leadership. Management brings consistency and accountability, while leadership allows us to grow and inspire. This article (part one in an Avoiding Failed Projects two-part series) discusses techniques for managing project and the second part will focus on leading them.

Avoiding Failure with Your Projects

1. Manage the goal. In avoiding project trouble the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” has never been more correct. Manage scope (do not try to control it), document the decisions (never rely on an understanding), and give users what they need (rather than what they want).  Delivering to the original scope, schedule, and budget is far from a guarantee of a successful project.  It is essential to work with the customer and ensure the project delivers value.

2. Educate the Customer: Nothing is free. There are three parameters that control a project—scope, schedule, and budget. Trying to edict all three is the definition of a failure waiting to happen. Only two of these attributes may be set; the other is derived. Educate the customer (and maybe some corporate executive) on these constraints and how they work.

3. Beware of Technology. Technology makes almost anything more efficient. However, it is not the answer, it is only a tool.  Before applying it, have the right people and the proper processes in place; otherwise, trouble will come just as before—only faster and much more efficiently.

4. Select the Correct Methodology. “We have always done it that way” is the cry of someone without enough drive or imagination to build new, lean, and innovative processes.  Since project are temporary endeavors that create a unique product or service how can one process work for all projects? Match the methodology to the product or service being built.

5. Negotiate the Solution. Negotiation is equal parts art and science. However, applying a process will help teach the art. The key to win-win negotiation is striving to build value for both sides of the negotiation. Achieve this by knowing both parties’ true needs and wants and never negotiating over just one item.  For instance, one strategy to stretch out a deadline with a client would be to add one more item to the negotiation that will not make a huge impact to delivery. For instance, adding an addition low cost product (maybe it has already been designed or built) to the negotiation may provide them enough value to soften the blow of the delay.

Management’s Foundation

Management techniques are the foundation for running projects. It sets the processes and procedures for required to measure progress. We do not live is a perfect world, however, and trouble will always exist. This simple set of techniques help set the stage for handling troubled projects and minimizes their impact. However we need more, project managers must also be leaders. The second part of this article will discuss seven techniques that all project managers should master to reduce failures’ occurrence and lessen its impact when it inevitably happens. For more business insights and strategies, sign up for our free management newsletter, Moving Ahead.

About The Author

Todd C. Williams is the founder and president of eCameron, Inc. (www.ecaminc.com), they help companies make their vision profitable. He has over 25 years of experience in recovering failing projects, preventing their failure, and applying those lessons to help other organizations fulfill their strategic goals. He has helped his clients through strategic planning facilitation, setting up and running operations, IT leadership, and as an expert witness. He is the author of Rescue the Problem Project: A Complete Guide to Identifying, Preventing, and Recovering from Project Failure and can be found on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/backfromred/), Twitter (twitter.com/backfromred), Facebook (facebook.com/BackFromRed ), by phone: 1 (360) 834-7361, or email: [email protected].