Recognizing Failure

Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting Inc., an Ontario, Canada-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at andy.jordan@roffensian.com. Andy's new book Risk Management for Project Driven Organizations is now available.

For years I have been reading survey after survey about how high a percentage of projects (especially IT projects) “fail” based on various different measures. There has been an improving trend over time, and some of the studies have definitions that I would take issue with. But there is no getting away from the fact that a lot of projects fail to deliver against the plan that the approval of the project was based on. However, at the same time there is a relatively low percentage of projects that are ever cancelled--projects are delayed, costs are escalated, scope is cut…but ultimately the project is delivered, even if it bears little resemblance to what was originally approved.

In this article I want to look at why I believe this occurs and offer some thoughts on a more objective approach to failed and failing projects--one that will ultimately improve the quality of project execution.

The problem
One of the largest problems that I see with projects is that there is only a single decision point as to whether the project will be undertaken. During an annual planning process or similar activity, each project proposal is considered and either rejected or approved. If projects are approved, then they obviously begin to be executed--and they are subject to the various levels of governance that will include measurement of actual performance against …

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