It is a fact of life that not every project succeeds. Sometimes the market changes and the product is no longer viable. Sometimes the budget or time constraints are untenable. Sometimes it is simply a case that somebody has made a mistake.

How do you deal with the failure of your project?

•    Identify causes, not people

It may be the case that your boss has been unsupportive from the start, or that your customers have changed their minds once too often, or that your staff are undermotivated. Nevertheless, if you start blaming people (“It was Jimmy’s fault”) rather than causes (“The unrealistic alterations that we promised the customer”).

Identifying causes rather than people will also rescue you from the trap of self-blame. When a project fails, it might be the responsibility of the Project Manager, but it is not the Project Manager’s fault. By understanding that your decision to allow your staff to miss a crucial deadline (and not you yourself) caused project failure, you be better able to learn the lessons of the failure.

•    Apologise

If the project is your responsibility, then it is up to you to apologise to those who have invested their time, money and energy into the project.

You may feel that others owe you an obligation, but being Project Manager is not about owing and demanding apologies. It is about taking professional responsibility for actions and results.

For the same reasons, do not over-apologise. State the causes for project failure, if appropriate, and offer sincere apologies for the disappointment. Do not lay blame, but do not grovel either. Your investors will respect you more for it.

•    Learn from the failure

There are lessons to be drawn from every project, but especially from those that fail. This is all part of identifying the causes of failure. Recognising why a project fails helps you to avoid failure the next time around. Sharing the lessons with others on the team shows people that failures is not an end but a process.

•    Move on

If identifying the causes of the failure is the most important thing you do, then moving on is a close second. You must be able to put this project behind you and engage with the next. Moving on to the next project will show your team and your managers that you have resilience, energy and dedication to your job.

Identifying causes, apologising, learning and moving on turn project failure into a fruitful process that can provide material for the growth of the project team and the project manager.

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