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Too many projects end in failure. The deadline was missed, the budget exceeded or the quality just wasn’t there. Some projects are doomed before they begin, saddled with poor definition of requirements. Many peter out as resource shortages make it impossible to hit milestones. More are afflicted by the curse of scope creep or failure to recognize the technical challenges. Others fall apart as key steps are overlooked; the “white space” between tasks that everyone knows about but never appear on the WBS.

Sometimes though the problem isn’t in the formal definition stages. Sometimes it’s the team that fails. The goal was achievable but the team didn’t deliver. Project managers looking for success should consider the team factors as well as the formal project planning steps. Here we’ll discuss seven reasons why project teams sometimes can’t get the job done.

1. Lack of Vision

Can you express the project goal in a single sentence? “Put a man on the moon” is a clear statement that the team can buy in to. Many other projects lack such clarity, and that makes it hard to unite the team behind a shared vision. If it takes more than a few words to explain what you’re trying to achieve maybe your project lacks a clear vision.

2. Insufficient Alignment

This is about team members committing to that single, shared goal. If the PM thinks he’s going to Mars but team members are divided between Venus and Jupiter you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere. Take time to ensure everyone shares the same view of where the team is headed.

3. Lack of Role Clarity

When team members aren’t clear about who is responsible for what there’s a risk of duplicating effort. More likely though, if everyone thinks someone else is taking care of a task it won’t get done at all. The PM needs to be very clear about roles and responsibilities and must back this up by holding individuals accountable for their actions, or lack of.

4. Poor Communication

Information is the oil that lubricates the project machine. It’s essential that each team member has access to what they need to know. The PM must make it clear that knowledge ”hoarding” is unacceptable, and should put tools in place to prevent it. These can range from technology solutions like SharePoint to big whiteboards in the “War Room.”

Some organizations are prone to “silo-ing.” This is where people from disparate functions – Engineering, Logistics for example – maintain their technical allegiances rather than forming a multi-disciplined team.

5. Unclear Processes

Do team members know how progress will be tracked? Exceptions reported? Do they understand the risk management processes employed or the stakeholder reporting mechanisms? If the formal systems aren’t clear there’s a risk of individuals using their initiative to get things done.

Initiative is never bad, but it can complicate activities and confuse stakeholders. Avoid unnecessary complication by making the management processes clear and visible.

6. Mishandling of Conflict

In a high performing team there should be differences of opinion. You need technical experts to debate alternative approaches, but you also need them to reach agreement. The PM must ensure arguments stay respectful and that when conclusions are reached each team member buys-in. You can’t afford to have individuals sitting on the sidelines because their idea wasn’t accepted.

7. Low Engagement

Pressure will mount as the deadline nears. You need every team member to pull their weight and any not doing so risk dragging down team morale.

Lack of engagement is about more than work ethic and attitude though. Resource shortages, poor working conditions, and feeling unappreciated can all cause team members to mentally “check out.” The result is low morale and a lack of effort.

Interestingly, morale is often at it’s highest when a team is under pressure, but only on one condition; the team must believe the goal is achievable with just a little more effort. The PM’s job is to communicate just how close to the summit the group is.

Keeping the Team on Track

Project management is hard. There’s never enough time or resources and always so much that can go wrong. One aspect the PM can work on though is team dynamics. Making sure each team member is performing to the best of their abilities, and that their efforts are coordinated, lessens the chance of project team failure. And don’t forget to recognize exceptional effort – it makes a big difference to morale!