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Topics: Communications Management
How should a Project Manager communicate to his team about project failure?
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As is generally noted, project teams are engaged in the project to meet its objective. However at times, for reasons not in control of the project team, projects fail. How should a Project Manager convey this to his team? What should he be mindful of? How should he ensure he retains the trust of the team?
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Deepa,
More and more red flags during the progress of a project is a sure sign that it is going to fail or not going to achieve its aim. It's the PMs responsibility to see that the project should not fail and as a servant-leader he should take all initiatives to attain the goal. A failed project and its reasons are OPAs to the organization.
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Dec 22, 2018 8:51 PM
Deepa Bhide
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Thanks Mohamed! I agree with you and the symptoms/flags need to be carefully looked at and timely corrective actions taken to ensure project success. However at times, I do feel, team and PM are trying their best and yet projects are declared as failed. The onus of communicating this lies on the PM and that is where the challenge around communicating this comes up.
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If a project fail for reasons not in control of the project team then this is a project manager failure. It does mean that there was not communication with business analyst/business relationship manager which is accountable for the whole solution where the project is the mean to generate the solution.
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3 replies by Deepa Bhide and Keith Novak
Dec 22, 2018 9:03 PM
Deepa Bhide
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Thank you and agree with you. Yet at times, much as the PM tries to salvage the situation, it is out of his sphere of control and that is when the difficulty arises.
Dec 23, 2018 12:56 PM
Keith Novak
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I'm sorry Sergio but I completely disagree and will provide some examples that I have personally experienced. The first is due to physics outside the control of the PM, and the other 2 relate to developing a system, where there is a significant change to the external environment.

1) Research and development: A team I led was attempting to develop new materials that were beyond the current state of the art. The team achieved 2 patents for the work, however were unable to overcome some technical problems related to chemistry. There were successes but the overall project was cancelled and existing materials were used instead.

2) A government program canceled: A senior executive was caught in a major breach of ethics. As a result, the government cancelled the very large program contract and the projects of all teams developing the SOW were immediately terminated.

3) A product improvement to a product that is canceled during the project execution: The project seeks to reduce cost and flow to an existing product. The overall market for the product is rapidly disappearing so there is no business case to pursue the improvements.

These fall into the risk handling approaches of: Accept

As PMs, we cannot change fundamental physics, we cannot control senior executives or governments, and we cannot control the economic environment. The project can be greatly affected by these external influences however. The only way they cannot be described as failures, is if we redefine what we mean by success to fell better about the outcome.
Dec 25, 2018 5:36 AM
Deepa Bhide
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Keith, I agree with you on the need where some projects end abruptly or the need of the project is removed abruptly and in my experience, geo-political and technology change influences are in majority for such issues. Appreciate your citing of the instances.

Thanks
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I would say to do a Lessons Learned / Retrospective. This will be an interactive exercise so the team can understand what was and was not in their control. Then by discussing how some of the issues could have been avoided (even if it was outside their control) they will feel that they have been heard by someone.
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Dec 22, 2018 9:04 PM
Deepa Bhide
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Dinah,thank you! Yes, I agree that even though the project is failed, a retro will help as a preventive action and also convey a message that the PM was invested in the team. I do feel it will help maintain the trust of the team.
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Dec 22, 2018 12:29 PM
Replying to MOHAMED ANSARI M A
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Deepa,
More and more red flags during the progress of a project is a sure sign that it is going to fail or not going to achieve its aim. It's the PMs responsibility to see that the project should not fail and as a servant-leader he should take all initiatives to attain the goal. A failed project and its reasons are OPAs to the organization.
Thanks Mohamed! I agree with you and the symptoms/flags need to be carefully looked at and timely corrective actions taken to ensure project success. However at times, I do feel, team and PM are trying their best and yet projects are declared as failed. The onus of communicating this lies on the PM and that is where the challenge around communicating this comes up.
Network:1564



Dec 22, 2018 1:35 PM
Replying to Sergio Luis Conte
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If a project fail for reasons not in control of the project team then this is a project manager failure. It does mean that there was not communication with business analyst/business relationship manager which is accountable for the whole solution where the project is the mean to generate the solution.
Thank you and agree with you. Yet at times, much as the PM tries to salvage the situation, it is out of his sphere of control and that is when the difficulty arises.
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2 replies by Deepa Bhide and Sergio Luis Conte
Dec 23, 2018 4:23 AM
Sergio Luis Conte
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Sorry for desigree, but if something is out of its sphere and control then there is no reason to have a project manager. First of all, what I see along the years and I have debate lot of time with PMI people (thanks to that an special session has been included in the new PMBOK. Obviouly I am not the only person) when you see the project objectives (the mean to measure success) you will see that they are incorrectly stated most of the times. Instead of stated project objectives they are product objectives then they are impossible to achieve for the project (for example: "growth 5% in market share on this year" is not a project objective). Second, nothing inside the project must be out of control of the project manager. This is because things like risk and issue management exists. The problem is most of the project managers work in reactive mode instead of proactive mode. The key reason to have a project manager is to prevent instead of to cure. But it demands to work smart instead to work hard. The third thing is:which is the definiton of project management used in your organization? That is critical. If your organization think that a project manager is something that must make micro-management then it is quit impossible to work smart or to prevent.
Dec 25, 2018 5:33 AM
Deepa Bhide
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Thanks Sergio for your detailed thoughts.
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Dec 22, 2018 6:49 PM
Replying to Dinah Young
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I would say to do a Lessons Learned / Retrospective. This will be an interactive exercise so the team can understand what was and was not in their control. Then by discussing how some of the issues could have been avoided (even if it was outside their control) they will feel that they have been heard by someone.
Dinah,thank you! Yes, I agree that even though the project is failed, a retro will help as a preventive action and also convey a message that the PM was invested in the team. I do feel it will help maintain the trust of the team.
Network:415



If a Project has met it's objectives (accepted deliverables), the the Project is considered a success. But stakeholder satisfaction is also a measure of project's success (in all cases the Project Management plans has to be judiciously scripted). Some failure can occur surely beyond the control of Project team (predominantly EEFs). There may be instances where formal project closure could not happen due to legal hurdles to procurement closure.

And to the best if my knowledge, communication management after "Close project " phase is beyond PMBOK !!!!!
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Dec 22, 2018 11:28 PM
Deepa Bhide
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I agree. Wondering how Emotional Intelligence essential s tie into all this?
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Dec 22, 2018 9:25 PM
Replying to MOHAMED ANSARI M A
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If a Project has met it's objectives (accepted deliverables), the the Project is considered a success. But stakeholder satisfaction is also a measure of project's success (in all cases the Project Management plans has to be judiciously scripted). Some failure can occur surely beyond the control of Project team (predominantly EEFs). There may be instances where formal project closure could not happen due to legal hurdles to procurement closure.

And to the best if my knowledge, communication management after "Close project " phase is beyond PMBOK !!!!!
I agree. Wondering how Emotional Intelligence essential s tie into all this?
Network:89



Deepa, It is always difficult to communicate the failures. The project delivery is a progressive activity and I am sure you must be highlighing the status in your weekly status reports. Hence It would not be anyways comes as a surprise to Team Members.

The question remains is offically declaring it to the team members. Best way is to call Full Team Meeting and break the news but make sure that you have to take your seniotrs in the confidence.
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Dec 25, 2018 5:30 AM
Deepa Bhide
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Ashutosh, I agree that the WSMs are forums to plan communication.
Network:106



Emotional intelligence is critical in these situations. A business reorganization or legislation change can make a project no longer viable and despite no fault of the team, the people on that team will soon need a new job.

Sudden change is difficult on employees in may ways. When you are communicating to the team that the project will be terminated, you must acknowledge that this may be extremely disruptive to some people on your team.
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1 reply by Deepa Bhide
Dec 25, 2018 5:29 AM
Deepa Bhide
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Keith, I agree with you. Many a geo-political projects are not needed abruptly and communication is challenging here.
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