Large scale project failures are often the ones that hit the headlines: millions of dollars wasted, months or even years late, not meeting the needs of the community. We’ve all heard the doom-laden proclamations but presumed they don’t apply to us. That’s not the case. As a small business, you’re unlikely to be running multimillion dollar projects, and the outcome of your projects may only affect a few people, but there’s plenty to learn from these large-scale failures.
Think of the amount you invest in a project as a percentage of your turnover. It may only be a few thousand, or even hundred, dollars, but it’s safe to say it’s probably as important in percentage terms to you as the many millions spent by large corporations or government bodies. Now, wouldn’t you like to get more out of that investment – and reduce the risk that you’re investing in something that won’t succeed?
This is where you can learn project management skills from the failures of larger organizations.
- Be clear about the scope of your project. Many large-scale projects end up going significantly over budget and time because of scope creep – or because the scope of what they were doing wasn’t clear in the first place. Understanding from day one what you need to achieve will make a real difference to the success of your project.
- Have a common terminology. We’ve all heard the stories about engineering projects risking failure due to one team working in centimeters while the other team works in inches. While these stories might be exaggerated, there’s a lesson to be learned: make sure everyone working on the project – within your business and third parties – is clear about what you mean.
- Understand dependencies. Large projects with multiple dependencies are often affected by delays in completion of a particular area (and on a smaller scale we’ve all seen the ‘Grand Design’ where building work grinds to a halt waiting for delivery of specially made windows). This can particularly affect a smaller business if you’re relying on external/third party suppliers to provide a particular element of your project. So make sure you factor this into your project planning.
- Learn from your mistakes. Keeping clear project documentation and having an end of project review might take up additional time – a particular challenge if you’re not a dedicated project manager. But it means you can avoid making the same mistakes twice.
So, next time you hear about the failure of a large-scale project, don’t brush it under the carpet as ‘nothing to do with us’ – learn from their failure to make your projects a success.
Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Program Management Product Development at QA -leading providers of PRINCE2 qualifications. His role provides business direction and ownership of QA’s portfolio, program, project and risk management curriculum. Ian is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant, having delivered programs and projects in all industry sectors.