Why Projects Fail

Grover Jackson
24 August 2021 18 min read

Strategic delivery and projects fail when self-managing teams, their team leads or managers (project and product managers included) take their eye off the ball and drift from what the business leadership's path is... the business strategy. The list of reasons for this is too long and numerous to go into and this in itself, isn't the biggest issue for business. The challenge is that spotting it, before it becomes an issue, isn't actually well supported by the project and task management tools we use.

The main workplace tools for tracking, measuring and monitoring project and task progression, have both a visual and data focus on how busy and utilized resources and people are... rather than focusing on ensuring they are doing the right or proper things. They are demonstrably terrible at identifying this strategic drift early. Two common phrases are used to describe this strategic drift - Strategically Misaligned Work and scope creep. The latter being a subset of the former.

Industry hype has done a terrific job of creating easy to consume info around agile, DevOps and other business systems, processes and practices, the reality though, is that there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The reality of the level of effort spent getting an idea, big or small, from conception through to customer consumption is more like this.

Idea Workflow

Sure, not all of these steps will be taken. Someone getting an idea into a strategic project means they can skip steps 2 through 6; a task that changes the back-end process won't have UI/UX design, but it will certainty have an impact that can't be seen. Even the smallest of tasks have requirements, development, testing and release operations to go through. This large level of work, still isn't why projects fail... they fail when an idea that shouldn't have been started, has this effort is expended on it.

Most businesses unfortunately spot this Strategically Misaligned Work nearer the end of an ideas journey... as in, when it has been released. Whoops.

Some businesses are lucky and spot this at step 12 - the development phase; most commonly during sprint planning or testing... still pretty late in the grand scheme of things.

The ideal time to spot Strategically Misaligned Work, is the moment the idea is raised during a projects life. Before time, effort and budget is consumed with all the pre-work such as requirements and UI/UX design. It's the moment the task is added to a backlog.

This action of adding the task to your list of things to do or consider, is the key opportunity to quickly assess if the task actually aligns to your businesses strategy. This can feel counter to convention, which holds that, if a task comes up during a strategic projects journey to delivery, the task is therefore also strategic and aligned. The 30 seconds spent making sure this simple assessment is true, can save tens if not hundreds of hours in misaligned work being acted upon. Read more on how Strategic Projects are not your Strategy to make sure you can assess tasks to your true strategy rather than to your strategic projects.

Strategy-AI fully integrates with the major project and task management systems to bring your strategy front and center while adding tasks to your backlog. Spot work that is strategically misaligned earlier, deprioritise work and avoid the costs and expenses that aren't going to get you to market.