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project failure

How to overcome project failures

Even if a project has been a complete write-off – or conversely, a total success – there are always lessons to be learnt from the experience. Taking the time to reflect, and training yourself to think critically will help you overcome project failures and work towards future successes. Here we uncover the actionable steps you can take on the ‘road to recovery’ following a project failure.

Ask tough questions (of yourself)

What could I have done differently? This is the biggest question you can ask yourself following a project failure. Don’t underestimate how beneficial carving out the time to reflect on previous projects can be. Think about how you handled each stage, particularly the challenges, and speculate on what you could do better next time.

Critical thinking and problem solving go hand in hand, so before you start a new project look back on previous ones and be critical about their success. Did everything run smoothly? Were the solutions you came up with the best ones in hindsight? Work through the project systematically and reflect on areas of strength and weakness. Armed with this knowledge you will be better equipped for future problem solving as part of your next project.

Reflect on your skills...

Whilst being tough on yourself, question whether you have the full skillset your job requires. This is particularly relevant if you have worked your way up through the ranks quickly. Training and continually upskilling are key for confidently tackling the challenges of your daily work. Take a critical look at whether you are equipped with the tools to respond effectively to issues that arise and find solutions. And if there are pitfalls, such as a lack of process knowledge or technical understanding, remedy these with training. While you’re at it, take a look at your team’s skills too. Investing in their professional development and your own can help to avoid future project failures.

...And on your soft skills

It is said that in the project management profession, your performance is measured by the performance of others. Rather than let that intimidate you, allow it to inspire your practices. Soft skills are hugely significant in project management, so take a moment to evaluate yours. Leadership, for one, is paramount as effective team leadership can make or break a project. Your attitudes, commitment, honesty and communication skills all factor into this and are pivotal in your team’s performance. Reflect on whether these are the best they can be, and if not, brush up! Emotional intelligence and social skills come naturally to some, but for others they need to be nurtured.

Be more responsive

Traditional methodologies within project management put a lot of emphasis on thorough planning and scheduling. Though this may have worked in the past it is not always scalable to today’s evermore complex projects, and so PMs are moving towards a more hybrid approach. By combining your current framework with agile practices, you can be far more responsive when facing hurdles during a project. Agile working allows you to adapt your original plans with carefully considered strategies, whilst always moving towards your end goal. What’s more, using modern tools and technologies to your advantage can go a long way to preempting challenges ahead. Be responsive by first uncovering how to analyse data and flag any warning signs in advance. These indicators will allow you to react effectively and in a timely manner.

Know when to ask for help

There will be occasions where a project’s shortcomings are a challenge too far. Perhaps in order to fulfill a project’s potential you need support from above, in the form of finances or resources. Whatever the hurdle, prepare for the occasions where you need to ask for help by forging strong relationships with your seniors.

Upper management are as invested in a project’s success as you are, if not more so, so they can be a valuable, and an often untapped resource. Whilst you may be reluctant to bother your seniors with issues, by putting in the groundwork ahead of time you can make sure you’re on a good footing. This can go a long way in preventing management from viewing you negatively when asking for help. For example, when signing off a project be sure to report to your seniors not only the successes, but the failures you had to overcome in order to achieve your positive end result. This way, they get the full picture and can identify areas of improvement.

Going forward

When you are intensely committed to making a project work, as most project managers are, it is easy to let failures be all-encompassing. However, learning to recognise when change is needed will help you overcome project failures, preempt and deal with them ahead of time. By being more responsive, improving your leadership methods, building a support network, and upskilling, you will be able to identify solutions to any issue a project throws your way. Remember that everyone is still learning.