How Projects Fail

a41107d183cf1056713c5850f284b04aAs a researcher, I often get called when someone has a product or marketing program that simply isn’t working.  I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, so I have a wonderful collection of examples.  Sometimes the fix is easy.  Sometimes, you scratch your head and wonder why they ever thought their idea would work.

Arguably, most problems in business and life are to some extent self-inflicted.  Problems I’ve encountered include:

  • Objectives that are vague.  How can you know if you achieve them?
  • Objectives that are overly aggressive.  OK, you have a new product idea and want to make a million dollars in income.  That’s probably not going to happen this quarter.  Does that mean that anything you do now is a failure?
  • Changing objectives in midstream.  You plan to reach Point A, but decide half-way there that you want to go to Point B instead.  Odds are you never get to either place.
    • Hitler demonstrated the futility of changing objectives in the invasion of Russia in 1941.  Before reaching Moscow, he diverts troops toward Stalingrad and captures neither.
    • Changing objectives is an often sited reason why government and corporate IT projects go massively over-budget and behind schedule.  That’s particularly true with projects that are intended to be larger (enterprise-wide) and more comprehensive.  (Remember the comment about overly aggressive objectives?)
      • The failed IBM overhaul of the US air traffic control system, which is why parts of the system still use computers from the 1960s.  Vacuum tubes live.
      • The SAP enterprise software implementation that caused Hershey to miss Halloween candy sales one year.
      • The Enterprise Health Records implementation that is causing the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to lay off 1,000 employees now.

A bit of wisdom from  Focus is essential.

“Most people spread themselves too thin and dilute their time, energy and resources.”

Spending your resources and accomplishing nothing is the definition of waste.

Perseverance is essential to success, but it has to be perseverance toward a realistic and achievable objective.




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