Why Projects Fail

My last article discussed the importance of verifying the sustainability of project work.Although there are many positives to living in a Six Sigma world, it does have a dark side- failed project audits.

My experience, dependent on my employer at the time, has been that anywhere from 10-50% of projects are not embedded into an organization’s culture at the time of a 12 month audit.

So why do projects fail? I’m sure there are countless articles and statistical analysis performed on this issue, however here are my thoughts…

  • Change in Key Stakeholder Role. A new Project Champion, Process Owner, etc. moves into the role. Unless solid communication has been made, the value of the project can be ignored or unseen. Also, new blood may mean an absence of Six Sigma training, and as a result, the stakeholder may be oblivious as to what his/her responsibilities are in supporting the aftermath of a project implementation.
  • Poor Project Definition/ Scope of Project.I’ve seen people try to save the world on certain projects, rather than breaking problems down into manageable “chunks”. Other projects have had their definition scope change and as a result the expectation of what the project will focus on/ deliver gets mis-communicated among staff, often resulting in a myriad of expectations for results that are often unachievable.
  • Targets are too Ambitious.Again with the comment regarding saving the world. I think sometimes people get pressured into thinking they have to save “x” dollars every time they do a project and truly don’t due their due diligence when estimating the return on a project. If your employer has a set minimum amount of return for a project and you initially think you can’t achieve it, then it might not necessarily be the best Six Sigma project.
  • Project not Linked to Plan.Especially when training new Black and Green Belts, I’ve seen what I call “feel good” projects. The belt feels good because he/she has come up with a good problem to solve. However, if that problem is not linked to a gap existing between the company plan, metrics, mission statement, etc. and the current state, then it may be hard to garner long term support of embedding any long term improvement work (combined with a role change this can be the kiss of death).
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One final note- I have never seen a project fail because the wrong statistical tool was used. Although statistics are important, it’s generally people and their behaviors that will make or break the success of a project.

Comments 5

  1. Eric Fay

    I agree that that project failure is the embarassing soft underside of our work as Six Sigma professionals.

    Your observations on why projects fail got me thinking about projects I have seen or been involved in that have failed or have not been as effectively managed as they could have been.

    Using your 4 points as a starting point, I would challenge you to drill down at least one level deeper asking "why" (and if necessary using 5 "why’s"). Here are some thoughts based on my experience:

    Change in key stakeholder role: I led a project where the Project Champion changed not once, but twice…
    – why? because the project dragged on over a year
    – – why? because the project scope was too broad
    – – – why? because this was one of the first projects we did when we launched Six Sigma and we did not know any better

    Poor Project Definition/ Scope of Project: I have seen many projects with a scope which is not SMART
    – why? the project steering committee does not catch poor project scopes
    – – why? because they do not understand what makes a good or bad project
    – – – why? they lack adequate training
    – – – – why? they should receive regular refresher training

    Targets are too Ambitious: In the most egregious cases targets are deliberately inflated…
    – why? because GB’s and BB’s want to do a Six Sigma project
    – – why? because there is pressure on them from the CEO to do a project
    – – – why? because without CEO pressure they would not initiate projects
    – – – – why? because GB and BB candidates were too busy with other work
    – – – – – why? because their bosses did not make use of their Six Sigma skills

    Project not Linked to Plan: I frequently saw projects that were too internally focused…
    – why: the GB or BB was not aware of the big "Y"
    – – why: because the boss did not communicate it too him/her
    – – – why: because he did not know it or understand it either

    Conclusion: there are fundamental root causes at the heart of all these problems: communication, training, oversight.

  2. Ramnath. D

    I would like to add one more situation where a project might fail for the usage of Statistical tools.
    In a way, I am trying to find a solution for my problem. I have taken up a process which was not functioning and is forgotten by the respective stakeholders, which is due to handover problems.

    After 1 Year I found this problem and provided an useful solution, which has proved to be one of the source of Revenue Generation.

    Now comes the problem.

    a) Is Process Re-engineering a Six Sigma Project?

    b) If so for Measure and Analysis Phase what is the kind of data you will have to demonstrate the process failure?
    This is because the simple fact is you do receive mails from customers but there is no response to it. So i thougth the maximum possible is a discrete data like "Mails Responded and Non-Responded". Since 99.99% are defects the sigma level would be in Minus figure.

    Ofcourse in improve and control phases you can show the real improvement and put control measures.

    Can I expect someone to provide a solution to the stated problem?

  3. Merry

    I have experienced projects failing because of one more reason:

    Not involving the sponsor or process owner in the project meetings.

    I had always had the process owner’s representative who had nil or less powers to do something about the process attend the meetings because the process owner was "too busy". Although I tried to catch up with the process owner and explain the difference it makes with her absence, she did not seem to understand and believed that no change will help in improvement as she has already put in the best efforts possible. Overcoming this mindset of the process owner, which had a great influence on the other stakeholders of the process was an uphill task and ultimately the project had to fail.

  4. srinivas

    i had bitter experience of six sigma project failure because the cost saving after the project is less and the expectations on the results were more.

    it killed my intrest . now i amtrying finding the root cause for my failure.

  5. Dheeraj Mehrotra

    It may sound idiotic and scary of the very fact that a survey by the isixsigma Magazine suggests failure of the initiatives of the Six Sigma Projects at times. It may be of keen interpretation of the modules but the fact lies in the concern that not all six sigma projects accomplish a come out with a conclusion of success. The success level is certainly low due to the poor HR initiative and the dwelling of too many correlations of the variances further.
    The initiatives pertaining to the concern lies in the fact of observance that many of the respondents of the modules of the survey in this category feel that the failed Six Sigma project at their company is “a project that is started but not completed”, obvious of the factual belief that it was started with all fancy inauguration and party to conclude at the poor initiatives further. The Indian scenario talks of more of training and implementation rather than inception and practical application to the maxima and the sorry history reveals that it is more for the sake of training and having a break. It is true to realize the density of the projects but at the same time the employees are all the time so occupied with the assignments and routine operations that they tend to forget the project as their first choice and is hence at times this is given a name of PROJECT an offline, time consuming, weekend party routine to be accomplished with the facilitator. This is the TRUTH.

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