Failed projects are those that do not meet their goals, their estimated cost, their deadline or their set specifications (how to do it).

To prevent something so usual as seen in the image above , we share with you some good practices that we try to apply in each project we participate in.

Good practice #1: understand the problem well

We try to understand well and confirm with the customer what is his real “pain” and how far is he willing to go to solve it, in order to offer the most suitable “medication”. To fail here is to kill the project: means time lost and a customer frustrated.

Keep in mind that even if you are just an employee in a large company, any project assigned has a customer: external (easily recognizable) or intern from the company (harder to spot). The client is the one who expects the positive outcome of the project.

Good practice #2: only what is strictly necessary

We are looking to offer a specific and fully adapted treatment to his condition. We are not trying to “oversell”, a risk usually taken in the consultancy industry.

On the contrary, we prefer to suggest less, this way the customer will eventually ask for more at the end.

Good practice #3: promise, fulfil and surprise

Some say that the famous expression “under promise and overdeliver” is questionable.

Personally I don’t think it is wrong phrase, but I do believe it could be specified more. Something like this:

  • Follow what you promised: as elder members of your family surely told you when you were young: ‘keep your word’. Your word is the most important and, even sometimes, the only thing you are going to have.
  • Don’t give more than what you offered: if you offered 1 kg of lentils, do not give 1.2 kgs. Nevertheless, give what you promised plus something different: surprise the other party! That is indeed “overdeliver”.

The same way iPhone acted in the past: it wouldn’t offer more than expected regarding the phone calls, but it did add a new and incredible usability and a whole new world of mobile applications, almost unknown at that time.  The aim is to exceed the customers’ expectations.

Good practice #4: clearly define the project

Related to the previous practice, in the part of the promise we have to establish clearly the limits, the game field: the goals and the deadline for completing the project, the costs and requirements.

And keep them in mind!

For the requirements it is a good idea to clarify with the customer what is and what isn’t imperative. For instance, using the mnemotechnical rule MoSCoW:

  •   MUST: what needs to be done, otherwise, the project will have failed.
  •   SHOULD: what should be done if we stay within the budget, timeframe and goals.
  •   COULD: what could be done if we still have resources.
  •   WON’T: what we won’t do because it doesn’t fit or interest at this moment.

Probably, the last one is the most important. Almost always it is more important what we decide NOT TO DO than what we decide to do.

Clearly defining the project, we will avoid the danger of doing the project during the follow-up. That is what happens with most poorly planned projects.

ADVICE: respect every stage of a project, especially the first ones. This is something almost nobody does: therefore you will be different and much better.

Good practice #5: don’t forget about the small details (call it a checklist)

  • A project solves ONE and only one problem or need.
  • When searching for solutions, among participants will ALWAYS be those affected by the problem.
  • In the development of the solutions will be those involved in it and BETTER if the specialists in the subject also appear.
  • You do FEW projects at once: they are important and well chosen.
  • You choose a GOOD team leader: he knows what we are talking about and he knows how to lead the team.
  • The ones who implement the project will ALWAYS participate when planning the necessary tasks (what, when, how, how much, etc).
  • All tasks are broken down to the very MINIMUM. How do we know which is the very minimum? When there’s nothing left for the breakdown (that way there will be no doubt)
  • The people involved will ALWAYS have more than enough time to do the designated tasks. The absence of a realistic consideration, regarding the available time of the persons involved, is a “top problem”: we could call it the disease of the ‘optimistic planner’ or, better, the ‘crazy planner’.
  • You plan the projects to be initiated in the next 30 days as MAXIMUM (the rest goes to the fridge; they will be planned when they have to be launched).
  • You set goals and CELEBRATE when these are accomplished.
  • 1 project = 1 manager, and preferably she ONLY runs 1-2 important projects at a time.
  • There is consensus for the decision and DICTATORSHIP for the execution (this was a maxim ZARA, the clothing and accessories retailer, used in their management committees).
  • You monitor FREQUENTLY the evolution of the project (every 15 days is, generally, alright).
  • You keep a clear vision of ALL the projects you have going on and their estimated period of completion.
  • You have CLEAR incentives for the people doing the job.
  • You are CAREFUL regarding the forecasts: +10% for the money and +20% for the hours over the initial estimation (there will be deviations for sure).
  • You learn, at least, 2 THINGS from every project fulfilled.

This is what we try to apply in every project we face.

Do you do something different? Which good practices do you use?