I was challenged a while ago to blog about this subject (see footnote).  On the basis that the longer any such list the less chance of it being read, here are my top ten lessons from failed projects, learnt from bitter experience.  I draw a veil over the projects I have been involved with or, more often, observed that make up the bitter experience.

  1.  Make sure you know what you want to achieve.  Only change your objectives with care (NATO intervention in Afghanistan?)
  2. Work out how much you can and should spend and keep very close tabs on it
  3. Every project has that bit that’s the muddle in the middle.  Recognise it when it happens and sort it
  4. In particular, recognise the tipping point when a decision needs to be made whether to continue or abandon.  Don’t let things get to a stage at which people say “Well, we’ve got no other choice now” (Edinburgh tram project?)
  5. Let your people work on new and innovative stuff but don’t let them grow commitment surreptitiously beyond the tipping point
  6. Question and challenge at every step but in a supportive way.  Get the culture right to allow question and challenge
  7. Use project management disciplines wisely but not slavishly.  Beware Greeks bearing gifts in the form of full-blown PRINCE2 (Projects In a Controlled Environment – a project management methodology originally developed by the UK Ministry of Defence, renowned for their world-class skills in this area)
  8. Identify all the important groups critical to the success of the project.  Get buy in from them and make sure you keep it
  9. Involve the people who are going to have to make the implemented project work.  They’re probably at or close to the frontline of your organisation and usually have the capability to subvert anything they don’t like
  10. If it doesn’t have a clear endpoint, it’s not a project.

This is Topic 8 of a response to a suggestion for topics to blog about made by Ingrid Koehler, formerly of Local Government Improvement and Development