Forget the silver bullets, it's time for silver buckshot

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In my last blog I berated the fact that there is a constant stream of surveys asking for the top reasons why projects fail. In fact one I saw only last week asked for the top one cause/reason for project failure?

These surveys may just pass you by, but they do tend to get higher levels of interaction on social media than almost any other type of discussion. Just let it go! I hear you say. It doesnt do any harm and at least it gets people discussing what can go wrong.

Well I think it does do harm. As I previously pointed out, these surveys come up with the same old reasons time and time again and they have an insidious effect.

If there is a small and finite number of reasons why projects fail, then there should be a small and finite number of solutions that will make projects succeed. It is this mentality that leads to the silver bullet approach.

In the four decades that I have been managing or consulting there have been numerous silver bullets that will solve all our project management problems. In the 80s it was project management software (which was, of course just planning software*); in the early 90s it was methodologies; in the late 90s it was qualifications and so on. Clearly, these silver bullets have had no effect on the looming beast of project failure.

There is another phrase that is more relevant to what we need to do silver buckshot.

When reviewing post project reviews from many different sources I am struck by the fact that reasons for project failure are often very mundane. Phrases like, we should have communicated with our stakeholders more effectively or we should have been much clearer about the objectives are by no means uncommon.

Conversely, when you read the PPRs of successful projects, they can often be paraphrased as saying nothing more inspiring than we did the basic things well and they worked (this is particularly noticeable in some of the London 2012 PPRs).

Project failure needs to be addressed on a very broad front. No snipers bullet is going to solve the cultural issues that cause projects to fail. What we need is buckshot and lots of it. Project success will be achieved through a multitude of individually unimpressive small shots rather than a single bullet aimed at the top one cause of project failure.

* I fondly remember a magazine advert for SuperProject, which was a top selling package before MS Project came along. It showed the SuperProject box (software came in boxes in those days) on the Mastermind black leather chair. The strapline was the best project manager youll ever meet. Really?!!

Posted in Project management
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Posted by Adrian Dooley on 3rd Jul 2014

About the Author
Originally a construction project manager, I became involved in the development of project planning software for PC's in the early 1980's. In 1984 I set up a training and consultancy company, The Projects Group, and ran that until its sale in 2008. I was a founder member of Project Manager Today Magazine and Project Management Exhibitions Ltd. From 1996 to 2000, I served on the APM Council. During that period I was the Head of Professional Development and was appointed to the Board of APM Group Ltd. I am now semi-retired but remain on the Board of APM Group. I was heavily involved in the development of the 6th edition of the APM Body of Knowledge and have drawn on that experience to create an integrated framework for P3 management at www.praxisframework.org.

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