As I thought through this assignment, I reached out to several colleagues, friends, and family and asked: “have you ever been on a project that failed”? Overwhelmingly the answer was “No”. This led me to clarify the definition of failure, then and only then did the responses start to differ. Given this experience, I will start by defining “project failure”. Mar (2012) defines project failure in five easy ways:
- Stakeholder’s views – did they believe the project failed?
- Delivery to plan – did the project meet time, budget and quality targets?
- On time delivery – was the project delivered on time?
- Financial results – did the project meet its projected results?
- Minimum return – did the project meet its ROI target?
If the answer to any of these five questions is yes, the project failed.
Annually, as an investment in employee welfare the company plans a staff party or outing. The year in review the staff all decided they wanted an outing and so the social committee was gathered to make the plans. The team convened several meetings to get ideas together and issued a survey for the general staff to select locations from those the team identified. A significant number of the staff decided on a particular location, so the team started planning for that location. A date was identified, budget determined, action lists created, and tasks assigned. Planning went smoothly for the most part, but we had one major hick-up, the date for the outing was not widely communicated to the staff. As stakeholders in the project, they felt their needs were not considered, so several members of staff said they would boycott the outing. The social committee continued planning for the full staff complement which proved to be a good move. On the day of the outing majority of the team showed up and we were underway. From the committee’s standpoint, it was a great day. The buses arrived on time though our planned departure time was off by nearly 30 minutes, yet we got to the hotel on time. The hotel was well prepared for us. Food and beverage were served all day, and there were several activities in which the staff participated. We had an incident-free return to the office, and all staff members went home safely.
A few days after the outing we issued a survey to the staff to get their feedback on the day and activities. During the post-mortem meeting, we discussed the survey and the highs and lows of the project. As expected majority of the staff felt communication was a problem, but what was the biggest surprise for the committee was that they all disliked the location and were disgruntled about the service received.
What went right?
The project was completed on time and under budget. Additionally, all necessary safety and risk precautions established by the company were observed
What went wrong?
The team operated based on the stakeholders’ choice. Because the majority of the staff decided on the location, the restrictions imposed by the hotel were ignored as the committee felt the staff ‘s choice should be honored. There was no site visit to the hotel because of budget constraints. Additionally, while there were persons assigned to various communication tasks, there was no clear communication plan. Updates were directed to the management team with brief discussions of the outing in staff meetings. A poster was placed on the noticeboard a week before the outing. However, the team planned the outing for the better part of 4 months.
The informal nature of this project led the team not to complete some of the traditional documentation found in a project, for example, a schedule of work and communication plan. Greer (2010) provides several templates that could be used by the team to address the shortcomings. Firstly a project communications planner (p. 34) could identify, the who, what, how, and when of communications and help the team to reach all stakeholders. Additionally, the use of a responsibility matrix (p.12) would help the team to define who will be included in each activity. This would have helped to identify which tasks would be undertaken by who and all the players in the process.
Portny et al., (2008) explains that a project manager should determine why the organization selected the project (p. 13). In this particular case, the committee and committee head, acting in the capacity of project manager, should have identified why the staff selected the location they did. In retrospect, we learned that they picked the hotel because it had a waterpark. However, the hotel had several excessive restrictions that prevented staff from really enjoying their stay. We could have accomplished the goal of getting the team to a waterpark with fewer restrictions by choosing another location. We did not take the time to investigate their choice and so had to plan other activities to make up for the failed trip.
Greer, M. (2010). The project management minimalist: Just enough PM to rock your projects! (Laureate custom ed.). Baltimore: Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from https://class.waldenu.edu/bbcswebdav/institution/USW1/201660_02/MS_INDT/EDUC_6145/Week%202/Resources/Week%202%20Resources/embedded/pm-minimalist-ver-3-laureate.pdf
Mar, A. (2012, November 14). 5 definitions of project failure. Retrieved from simplicable.com: http://management.simplicable.com/management/new/5-definitions-of-project-failure
Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.