Ten Ways to Guarantee Project Failure


Naomi Karten specializes in helping companies succeed in their projects. In this column, however, she gives tongue-in-cheek advice on how to make a project fail. Read on to see if these steps to failure are part of your organization's modus operandi.

Imagine that you've been put in charge of a mighty important project. Imagine further that you're allergic to success and will do anything to avoid it. What can you do to ensure that the project doesn't just fail, but (just to be safe) fails miserably? Here are ten suggestions:

1. Abbreviate the planning process
Planning is boring. It takes too long, and diverts attention from doing real work. Besides, there's nothing to show for it, so name the project, sketch some squiggles on a scratch pad, and get going. There's no need to strategize every little detail. Everything will fall into place in its own time.

2. Don't ask "what if?"
What if we have staff turnover during the project? What if some anticipated business changes actually come to pass? What if the other groups on our critical path perceive priorities differently from the way we do? Hypothetical possibilities are great for hypothetical projects, but this project is real. Just focus on the here and now, and you'll be fine.

3. Minimize customer involvement
Customers just slow things down. Anyway, they don't know what they want, so why bother asking them? Do your best to avoid customer input, and don't waste time with customers clarifying project direction, scope, and expectations. You can't afford such trivial pursuits when you've got a deadline to meet.

4. Select team members by the "hey, you" method
It doesn't really matter who is on the project team. If the people you initially assign prove too slow, you can always add more. Don't worry about the learning curve; they can teach each other. If progress is still too slow, reorganize the team and watch energy levels soar.

5. Work people long and hard
People who work a normal workweek aren't invested in the project. Anyway, people who work weekends get out of mowing the lawn, chauffeuring the kids, and entertaining the in-laws. There's something wrong with a deadline if people can meet it without any overtime.

6. Don't inform management of problems
Managers have better things to do than be concerned with what and how you're doing. If you're going to bother them with a problem, wait till it's a real doozy. Then spring it on them. Don't worry, they can handle it. After all, that's what management is paid for.7. Allow changes at any point
The more changes, the better. Accepting all requests for changes keeps things lively and avoids the monotony of a static project. Maintain a you-want-it-you-got-it philosophy. It does wonders for customer morale and keeps project personnel on their toes. And don't bother documenting these changes. They'll all be part of one big end result, so why bother?

8. Discourage questions from team members
They don't have to understand what they're doing; that's your concern. And they certainly don't need to understand what anyone else is doing. Above all, don't explain the instructions and directions you give them. Their job is to do, not to think. You're not a seasoned project manager until you can glibly tell people what to do without telling them why.

9. Don't give customers progress reports
If they ask, just tell them the project is proceeding smoothly. Explain patiently that status reports are counterproductive; you could be using the time to work on the project. Tell them anything; just get them off your back. This is the trust-me approach to project management. Customers will appreciate the confidence you exhibit.

10. Don't compare project progress with project estimates
That way, you won't have to deal with the discovery that the project is slipping. Anyway, the sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up. But you already knew that.

As a rule of thumb, remember that if you pay attention to the needs of the project, the team, and your customers, you run the risk of succeeding. Heed the above, and failure is yours. Guaranteed!

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