7 Leadership Techniques to Avoid Failed Projects

Published: Dec 11, 2013
Modified: Apr 04, 2022

By Todd Williams

With all the drive to create certifications, the project management world has tried to define itself as a science solely dependent upon process. Without a doubt the foundation of management for leadership techniques is process, critical to run any project (as mentioned in Avoiding Troubled Projects Part 1). management by itself, however, has not and will not decrease failures occurrence to any large degree. Contrary to the drive for certification, great project managers must be project leaders and use an artful touch to improve success rates and morph the failure’s frown into the success’s smile.

Avoiding Failure

1. Know the Direction. Neither projects nor companies get where they need to be without knowing their direction. A company’s strategic plans guide the company, its initiatives, and its projects. If the company’s goals are poorly defined (or not defined at all), its projects have very little chance for success. Project leaders ensure that projects are meeting goals and devoid of superfluous scope that fails to support the strategy.

2. Acknowledge The Problem. Denial is the primary problem in trying to solve a project’s issues. Acknowledging a project’s issues is just like any other 12-step process—the first step is admitting you are powerless and need help. Whether there are four or ten steps after that solely depend on the experience of the people who help. Finding the right people takes time, but accelerates the project, its recover, or both.

3. Hire Expertise. People always feel that given just a couple more weeks they can make problems better.  Rarely, they can.  Assistance from someone removed from the project team’s passion and emotion must assess the issues and potential solutions. Leaders know when and who to bring in as external resources to assist the project team.

4. Audit Projects Objectively. Too many project managers are overly passionate about their projects. They root for it like high-school cheerleaders. Their job is not to advocate for the project, but to be objective—passionately dispassionate—and determine what is working, what needs improving, and what must be jettisoned.  This takes the project manager out of the role of managing a project team and into the frontier of leading both the team and the stakeholders. The result may be to move the project in a new direction, remove deliverables that are weighing it down, or cancel it outright.

5. Analyze The Data And Develop Solutions. Data hold the answer.  Numbers are truthful little bastards, squeeze them hard enough and they will talk.  It is integral to their job to tell the truth. Emotions and guesses may show action, but are rarely productive. Dealing with data gives people the impartiality needed to make good decisions.

6. Talk to Your Team. The answers to the project’s issues are in the team.  Talk to them. Learn from them. Be one of them. We are all aware that teams defy mathematics. Arithmetically, one plus one equals two; with teamwork it totals to much more. Leaders understand team math. They take action that gain respect; they treat their teams and stakeholders with respect.

7. Beware the Blame Game. Never search for blame. Nothing destroys trust, respect, and motivation quicker or better than blame. At first this sounds difficult, since it seems like everyone wants to find the person at fault. Truth be told, to really mess up a project it takes a lot of people. The blame lies on many desks and, more often than not, a significant amount sits on the desk of the executives—the ones asking for the offending party to be routed out.

Leadership’s Edge Management is at the core of running projects, leadership techniques makes projects successful. It seems so simple that objectivity, honesty, and teamwork are critical, yet they are lacking in too many project managers and, for that matter, corporate executives. Leaders ensure that corporate goals are defined, projects are aligned with those goals, and, most importantly, leaders have the guts to tell the emperors or empresses they have no clothes. Leadership techniques is not about making friends while running a project; it is about earning respect for delivering the required value in a project. AMA conducted a survey to research the career benefits of getting the PMP. Here are the results to the question: Is the PMP Worth It?  

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].