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I know I shouldn’t say that, as it sounds like a disclaimer for own failures, but my experience is that most responsability on project failure comes from the uncapacity ( want but not being allowed ), unability ( not being able) or unwillingness ( do not want ) to handle unrealistic objectives whether if this is in terms of schedule, budget, scope or quality by senior management and this for any of the roles in the project ( customer, provider, manufacturer ).

And why this happens if nobody would deny that the most important key to guarantee a successful project is to handle any risk, unrealistic expectation and general project issues as soon as possible? This is not easy to answer but let’s try to discard some answers.

First, it’s not that senior managers don’t see the problem, they are experienced and know their organization and the customer and even when they don’t know the technical details they know what questions are to be made to have a quite accurate view of the situation.

Second, given that senior managers know at least what questions are to be made, the problem may be on the answer to these questions but project managers have an strong sense of responsability and deep analysis skills and are able to detect and point any early problems in the project.

By discarding these failure sources, we have achieved at least, internal awareness of the problem in the project and, we have still pending the identification of the cause for the problem not being solved from the beginning. Having reached this point we have now two main alternatives to involve or not to involve the customer, this is the question! (my apologies Mr. Shakespeare ).

From this decision and depending on the classification of this customer we may be able to get to the hypothesis I formulated initially ( 1.uncapacity, 2.unability, 3.unwillingness ).

When the customer is not involved, why is the customer not involved? 

Mainly because the customer is external to the organization and although the customer himself may be aware of the project weak foundations, this cannot be admitted. This would be an example of unwillingness

In some organizations the senior manager directly responsible for a project may belong to an organization unit whose objectives are different, at least in how are measured, to the objectives of the unit executing the project. This causes that the risk  of project failure is not felt so “personally” as when the senior manager belongs to the unit executing the project. In some cases the internal pressure between organization units may stress the problem moving to an scenario of uncapacity, as neither senior management responsible for the project nor senior management responsible for the execution unit will be the first in raising the yellow flag. The victim is often the execution unit as the problem will become apparent to the customer later and by that time, only the organization executing the project will appear on the picture as guilty. The only feasible solution is a combined communication to the customer from all the organizational units.

And when the customer is not involved, the options and degrees of freedom to solve the problem are very limited in number and effectivity. The budget cannot be increased, except in rare occassions.

Schedule is usually tight and as the project moves forward the margin is usually reduced, specially in troubled projects. And nothing delays more a project that the uncertainty in the situation and the noise introduced by all the maneuvering and discussions about the situation of the project.

More senior and experienced resources can be assigned to the project or sinergies with other projects can be leveraged but when no other action is put in place the effect may not be enough. The more effective variable to act upon is scope but without the customer being involved and having a clear view of the situation is difficult to revisit the project definition with success guarantees.

(To be continued)