Why projects fail

Ten years ago I partnered with Reed Business International and designed what was potentially the biggest survey of its’ kind in the UK and possibly the World. We targeted project managers and asked them, in their experience, (not opinion) what were the biggest causes of projects failing that they had worked on. The survey was sent to 9,317 people with multiple project experience, with nearly 10% responding, 867 completed questionnaires received. The general results (processed by an independent market agency organisation (NSM Research), identified the major cause of projects failing as: –

1. Estimates were rubbish
2. The finish/design/end result was not defined properly
3. Poor communication skills
4. The requirements were changed during the project

There are many other major factors that contribute to project failure and they are typically around planning, estimating, monitoring/checking progress, and the ability of people to do the job. Americans have a very appropriate saying for poor resources, ‘A fool with a tool is still a fool’.

Tall roller coaster Good news everyone…….they say the ride is 90% complete! – Image Source : famouswonders.com

So, whether you are building the channel tunnel, a computer system, a house or installing a new bathroom/kitchen etc, your project needs to be defined (Why you are doing it, what it will look like, how will you know when it has been successful), Planned, so everyone knows what he or she is doing, by when, to what standard, monitored (be in control) and re-planned, because stuff happens. Plans are always wrong, show me a plan that equals what happened and I will show you someone who planned after the event. However, it may be trite to say failing to plan is planning to fail but the evidence supports this. There is also plenty of evidence to suggest that doing it right may take time but it takes a lot less time than putting it right when it goes wrong.

The good news is that although some projects are completely ‘one offs’, never done before…. most of the types of project you need for your house/property, have been done many times before, there are usually known quantities/processes involved albeit with tweaks for your specific needs. The trick is therefore to find a company/tradesman that knows what they are doing, have done it before, been successful and has satisfied previous customers. Just because you do not know what is needed to do a job, this does not mean you are not responsible for making sure it is done properly…. here are a few things you should do (depending on the size of the project) that will help you…..

– Have a clear picture in your own head of what you want…. be prepared to describe it in detail. If you change your mind during the work, realise this is likely to affect any quotes and make sure you have discussed the cost and time (delay) implications before going ahead with changes.
– Get at least 2 quotes/estimates for smaller projects…. e.g. fixing a tap, capping a chimney and at least three quotes/estimates for bigger projects. The immediate concern most of us have when looking for a tradesman is the cost – who’s the cheapest? Consider some of the consequences of a poor job, you may then be asking not who is the cheapest but who is the best value? While it’s fairly easy to find out who is the cheapest on the market, it’s much more difficult to determine who is the best value. Don’t just use the process of getting estimates for getting the price down and/or selecting the cheapest. Use this process to judge how the company treats you; do they keep their promises? For larger jobs, how good or detailed is their estimate? Is well-presented on headed paper or hastily scribbled on piece of plasterboard?Use another company’s estimate to ask if the company you are talking to, includes the same line-items. You will often find that 3 estimates will have different component parts, so use them like a check list and get any missing from one estimate added and costed. Does the price sound too good to be true? Then it most probably is.
– Compare the details of the quotes and make sure you get answers where there are differences or a lack of detail.
– Check out their references and try and make sure any supplied references are relevant for similar jobs they have done to yours……ask for the contact numbers of previous customers and call them.
– Ensure a tradesman/company shows you their appropriate documents BEFORE they start work. (e.g. Part P, insurances, Gas Safe etc.) It may be too late afterwards.
– Ask friends and family if they have had similar work done, what did it cost, what were the pitfalls, anything that arose that you should plan for.
– Google it…. the Internet can be a great source of relevant information…. although many doctors would argue against this point….
– Never pay for a job before it is completed and for larger projects, never pay out more than the value of the work done to date. To ensure all work is completed, never pay the full amount before you are satisfied the work is complete. It is good practice to define up front how much the final payment will be and what criteria will be used to define when it must be paid.

Follow these simple rules and you are much more likely to have success with your home renovation projects.  There is nothing worse than spending your time and money only to find out that the beautiful design you had in your head never becomes a reality.

by Steve

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