Project plans can be unworkable for any number of reasons and our team of project management consultants have stepped in to rescue failing initiatives due to most of them. Some project plans are bad from the get-go, others become a nightmare mid-lifecycle. And though the process of getting at-risk projects back on track requires skill and dedication, it beats project failure any day.
Or does it?
Some project teams continue to charge ahead even as their plans are falling apart under their feet. It may be a baffling concept to understand, but some powerful factors can come into play and cause project professionals to continue forward with a plan they know (or, in some cases, should know) won’t end in success.
Because project teams face adversity on a regular basis—supply chain problems, vendor conflicts, internal obstacles, nonexistent sponsor support, promised headcount that turns out to be vaporware, etc.—it’s no surprise they’re typically tenacious when it comes to dealing with challenges. However, if team members’ trust in their own abilities begins to diverge from the reality of a bad situation, that overconfidence can cloud the group’s judgement when it comes to recognizing the warning flags of a sinking project. This can be a particular problem for high-performing teams, since a strong history of success goes a long way toward making the group assume they’ll be able to pull a bad project plan from the jaws of failure.
Misplaced optimism is frequently an issue for inexperienced project teams, where members may not have sufficient exposure to risk management techniques and other critical skills that would normally help them more accurately assess the workability of a project plan. Smaller organizations may also be misled by overly optimistic projections that things will work out alright in the end. These businesses value moxie and give great weight to bold decisions and gutsy strategies. The downside is that sheer determination isn’t always enough to bring a troubled project back to a healthy state.
Fear of being blamed
Worries about being held responsible for abandoning or halting a bad plan can occasionally be a bigger motivator than worries about outright project failure. Why? Some organizations have a reputation for keeping underperforming projects on life support and project teams know there’s a chance they can just continue on with a bad plan despite clear signs that success isn’t in the cards. If executives and sponsors are willing to put time and treasure into a failing project, why rock the boat?
Ongoing commitment to sunk costs
The concept of sunk costs keeps far too many bad project plans moving forward. If the team and the business have already invested a lot of energy and resources, and especially if the project is near and dear to stakeholders’ hearts, it can be incredibly difficult to walk away from all of that. Unfortunately, this mindset only leads to additional financial and workforce investments in support of a project that will ultimately fail.
Insufficient project planning and control
At a basic level, it’s not uncommon for project teams to lack the insight and awareness to know their project plan is seriously off track. They may not recognize that delays are snowballing or that quality is beginning to suffer. Resource conflicts can go unnoticed until it’s far too late to resolve them cost effectively. The team sticks with its shaky project plan only because they aren’t aware they’re headed for failure. If stakeholders are also unfamiliar with good project management techniques, it’s likely that no one is asking those key questions that would help uncover the plan’s critical gaps.