Thoughts on Project Management

First Installment – Introduction to thoughts on Project Management

2nd Installment: Project Managers Matter

 “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance” – Samuel Johnson (English Poet, Critic and Writer. 1709-1784)

Why-Projects-FailIn April of 1986, the Industrial Engineering Journal published an article I wrote entitled “Why Projects Fail: The Effects of Ignoring the Obvious[1].  I based the article on the nine years of “wisdom” I’d gained supporting a Project Management Software vendor and then delivering software projects at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Amgen and a number of small to medium size companies..  Check my Linkedin experience if you want more information about my career.

I’ve come to the realization that while I did get some things right, I only scratched the surface of the topic.  I’ve now had 35 years of experience successfully delivering IT, software and business projects.   I’ve learned more about why most projects continue to fail.

Despite all the advancements in project management training, tools and organization, projects continue to overrun their budgets, slip their schedules or just plain fail to accomplish their goals.

In an article titled “ website ‘didn’t have a chance in hell’  ComputerWorld states “Of 3,555 projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful.”[2]

Why is this? For each successful project in an organization, there are still more failures.  To make matters worst, many times the success or failure of a project depends on whom you talk to. It’s still amazing to me how many times costly overrun projects are declared a success. The cynical side of me would have have a lot of fun discussing the reasons for this behavior, but that really doesn’t help us successfully deliver projects.

This topic is important, as we continue a slow recovery from the great recession. We are seeing increased sales competition and downward pressure on expenses. The companies that win will be those who can achieve a higher project success rate

One basic problem is you can’t learn if you aren’t honest with yourself.  Very seldom is an objective, comprehensive inquiry done into the reasons a project succeeded or failed. To be successful, a project manager needs to be open to learning.   It takes perseverance to learn.


This blog on project management is being started to discuss why projects still fail and what can be done to increase the success of projects.

So what are the reasons for these failures? The majority of failures occurred not because of a failure in a complex area (such as a poor project management system), but because basic obvious principles of management were ignored.

Over the next couple of months I will make observations on basic principles of project management, which when forgotten, became contributing factors for the majority of project failures which I have observed. 

 Topics will include:

  1. Project Managers affect the outcome of the project
  2. Reward Bad News, Question Good News
  3. Manage the project not the tool.
  4. Don’t chisel first estimates into stone
  5. Don’t Over or Under manage
  6. Too much too soon
  7. Too many people.
  8. Collaborating teams outperform groups of individuals
  9. Don’t plan beyond your uncertainty horizon
  10. The power of walk-abouts
  11. Culture eats strategy for lunch

I’ll be back in a few weeks with more.  Remember that the cleanliness of theory is no match for the clutter of reality.

Best Regards,
Michael Hughes

2nd Installment: Project Managers Matter 

[1] “Why Projects Fail: The Effects of Ignoring the Obvious”, Michael Hughes, April 1986, Industrial Engineering Journal.  Click here for the article.

[2] website ‘didn’t have a chance in hell’,  Patrick Thibodeau, October 21, 2013, ComputerWorld, Click here for the article.

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