Home > Planning, Strategy > Why projects go wrong. In brief.

Why projects go wrong. In brief.

Flame out. Death march. Bad days and worse nights. If you work in consulting or IT or software development this has happened to you or it will. You will look up one day from whatever knowledge worker den of iniquity you call home and realize, I am screwed and it is not going to get better.

I think we are prone to such unpleasant showcases of doom because so much of what we do consists of ones and zeroes whose complexity and design are invisible to most people. We arcanely lay down our nerdy magic over the course of weeks and months and if we are not careful, smart and unusually lucky we end up being on the wrong side of the “schedule”. Generally speaking the larger the deal, project or effort the more likely it is that we will be left gored, panting on the floor, probably bleeding, definitely cursing and above all angry.

And if you are the nut-job who volunteers to lead these sorts of endeavors, you must be the sort of person who likes abuse, who relishes the thrill of knowing that at some point, in the very near future, your work life (and you had better not be taking it home) is going to go to hell. Probably in a handbasket, which will absolutely be full of unreasonable, angry people who really, really want to blame someone for their problems.

Granted you might get lucky, or if you were smart you or someone who likes you stacked the deck a bit and made sure there were people around who can both understand what happened and help. Even if these people are going to help, everyone is counting on a “fix”, which will get harder and harder as the situation unfolds. When things go from bad to worse, some people start behaving in ways that could charitably be described as irrational, but really more closely resembles the characters from Lord of the Flies.

Perhaps it does not have to be this way? Or maybe it does. Frankly I am not sure, people seem to like drama.

But there is good news. We can easily list the reasons for failure.

  1. Somebody, maybe you, but perhaps someone else did not do the right thing at the right time.
  2. Unforeseen circumstances.

We’ll start with the second item first. Put simply, this is something you cannot and should not plan for. Rogue comets hitting the office and killing your whole team, alien invasion, mass extinction or mass revelation. Everything else can generally fit into category one. But if that’s true, then doesn’t that mean that failures are always someone’s fault?

Yep and they and you will mess up again and again. Because we all are, just a bit crazy.

What was that you said? Was it something like… it profoundly sucks that most failure, even the most tragic is rooted in the day in day out lives we all take for granted, which many of us effectively sleep through.

Maybe you did not say that, maybe I am just jaded enough to put words in your mouth. Or maybe you do know that really all the pain and discomfort we feel is actually all of our own making.

The good news is, we can stop if we want to. The bad news is, many of us won’t. We don’t know how.


Categories: Planning, Strategy
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