5 tips to help you say goodbye to project failure

How can I avoid project failure?

That's a question I'm asked all the time. There's no doubt things today are complex - products have millions of lines of code, dozens of variations, and projects usually have hundreds or even thousands of stakeholders, often all in a perpetual state of development. But, the reality is that failure isn't usually a result of all this complexity. Rather, it's generally caused by a collaboration meltdown.

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Research from Forrester paints a clearer picture. According to the firm, the biggest problem in product development is a mismatch between the expected and actual value of a product, and the number one reason that products are delayed is unclear or changing requirements. In addition, more than 40 per cent of companies cite an inability to agree on product requirements.

Combine these challenges with the fact that many large technology companies work with teams dispersed across the globe and it becomes easy to see the pivotal role of collaboration in delivering today's software applications and other technologies.

But the good news is you can avoid a lot of heartburn by understanding the major pitfalls which lead to project failures. So, before you embark on your next project, consider these five reasons it could fail:

11th hour swoop-in

This happens when a stakeholder or executive comes onto the scene at the last minute with all types of questions or input, throwing a spanner in the works. In these cases, the relevant teams have likely been trying to communicate with this person all along, but he or she hasn't been paying attention.

Development misunderstandings

It's no surprise that your customers and your development teams speak a different language. However, problems arise when developers are not given enough information to really understand what the customer wants, and they make poorly-informed decisions along the way, which result in a product that doesn't meet customers' needs.

Decision recollection disorder

People often find themselves spending a lot of energy going back in time to both explain and substantiate how decisions were made when another stakeholder or manager says, "I was expecting something different."

The missing vault

While it's great to have a mastermind with deep insights working on your project, it can be devastating when that person goes on vacation, moves to a different team, or – worse yet – leaves the company. When the subject expert is gone, so is the invaluable knowledge.

CYA syndrome

Everyone has been in meetings where a decision is made, resulting in a lot of nodding heads. But when there is no documentation showing how these decisions were made along the way, teams run the risk of later being asked, "Wait a minute, why are you doing that?"

Effective collaboration is a critical element, because the project management process goes a lot more smoothly when every person is on the same page throughout the entire course of the project, and they all persistently share the same ultimate goal. This requires letting go of the typical command and control model, where only the necessary information is dispersed to each contributor. Managers need to trust that people make better decisions when they have as much information related to the project as possible. In addition, projects need airtight review cycles that bring key decision-makers into the process, offering them richer context about the previous decisions that were made. Collaboration systems that use social media constructs can provide stakeholders with a central framework for easily capturing knowledge and decisions into a central repository.

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In today's environment, emails, spreadsheets and weekly status meetings just aren't enough to help your team avoid these major mishaps which can put your project at risk. Collaboration systems can get information out of people's heads and make it accessible for everyone involved in a project. Ultimately, this shared information will greatly improve the likelihood of success.

Eric Winquist is the CEO of Jama Software