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Mitigating the Top 10 Obstacles to Project Success!

You have conducted the project kick off meeting and your project team is well into the planning phase of the project. So far so good, as the project manager you feel like you are in control. Then you receive a call from a panicked sponsor who lets you know that's just happened in our business environment that has affected the project” and because of that we'll have to change some of the scope.

You have conducted the project kick off meeting and your project team is well into the planning phase of the project. So far so good, as the project manager you feel like you are in control. Then you receive a call from a panicked sponsor who lets you know that “something’s just happened in our business environment that has affected the project” and because of that we’ll have to change some of the scope. A few minutes later, a project beneficiary, with the help of a few influential friends, sends you a re-write for some of the elements in the scope. He includes a note stating, “I know it’s a little late, but this scope is SO much better.” One of your subject matter experts barges into your office looking pale he says, “There’s no way we can do the original scope in the time given. We’ll need at least three more months!” It’s already a 15 month project. He adds, “Even if we had the extra three months we don’t have the right amount of resources to do the job!” He means the right people. For good measure, he reminds you that some of the project tasks will take a fixed amount of time to complete. “It is what it is,” he says, “regardless of the amount of people working on it.”

You’re the project manager, so you call a meeting, and have the SME’s present to figure out how to handle the perfect storm. During the meeting someone suggests with absolute clarity of thought “Why don’t we just cut into the testing time! That will buy us at least two months.” The group argues, but the sponsor (who joined the meeting, knowing it was going on) likes the idea. “We can use those people to help with the resource challenge!” Everyone agrees with the idea, and continues with delivering on their tasks.

It’s the following week, and half of the suppliers on your project are late with their tasks, throwing the project even more off track. When you ask these people why they are late, they direct you to their bosses. Since they don’t report into the same chain of command as you do you are directed to their administrators who put you on next month’s calendar for a “prioritization discussion.”

It’s the following Monday, and you get a call from the finance folks who want to know who authorized the over-budget on your project? You ask “What over-budget?” They explain that there seem to be at least 25% more people billing to the project’s cost center than was budgeted. Your status reports say otherwise. You are given a list of 37 people who are billing to your project, and you don’t know any of them.

Then your trustworthy, right hand SME comes back into your office and declares, “I found something we missed in analysis. We’ll have to add another piece to the design. Unfortunately, there is no one on the team with the right skill set to accomplish the task.” But we can’t hire any more resources, because, the project sponsor is gone on a three month safari to Madagascar and can’t be reached.

Sound familiar? For the respondents of MüTō Performance Corp.’s survey of the “Top 10 Obstacles to Project Success,” it is all too familiar. Embedded in the story are the Top 10 Obstacles that the 2009 respondents ranked with illuminating results. They confirmed that our comprehensive list captures the essence of obstacles faced by project managers, team leaders, program managers, and senior management. MüTō Performance Corp.’s analysis of the obstacles reveals that even when organizations have solid project processes in place, and perhaps have automated these processes, project managers still require the ability to communicate clearly, motivate effectively, and enforce accountability in order to see their way through the most common obstacles to a project’s success. Any lack in these critical soft skills is the root causes of most management failures.

Project management professionals from all over the world voiced their unique perspectives and ranked their project obstacles. The 2009 results listed in order of frequency from most to least; 1. Scope Creep (Same as last year!)

2. Challenging Schedule (up from #8 last year!)

3. Resource Challenge

4. Minimal or Non-Existent Testing

5. Tardy Delivery of Project Tasks

6. Delegated Responsibility Unrelated to Authority

7. Finance Challenge

8. Invisible Requirements (down from #2 last year!)

9. A Skill Set Challenged Team 10. The Disappearing Sponsor (down from #3 last year!) Scope Creep is still in the lead! Our analysis indicated that some respondents define scope creep as “a necessary change to the project’s scope that must be managed.” While an almost an equal number think it means “an unnecessary change that must be stopped.” This has given rise to the terms legitimate and illegitimate scope creep, with two distinct methods for detection and mitigation.

The Challenging Schedule has jumped to the top of the list with over 78% of the respondents agreeing that it’s a serious issue. Many reflect the stresses encountered on the job, and some think it’s because of the current fiscal times and the need for quick turn around. However, all agree that this problem exists because the project schedule is not being treated the same way as requirements; with all the efforts of analysis, design and cost/benefit applied.

The good news is that Invisible Requirements and The Disappearing Sponsor have dropped to the bottom of the list in 2009, from the top in 2008. This gives us the impression that project teams are doing a better job of analysis, and that sponsors are sticking around to handle their roles and responsibilities.

We have interesting information to share about how the obstacles were ranked by individuals from different regions of the world! For example, respondents that work for outsourcers expressed that their projects suffer from Scope Creep, the Finance Challenge, and Resource Challenge. Respondents that work for companies that utilize outsourcers suffer from Tardy Delivery of Project Tasks! Not surprisingly, the outsourcers also indicate that they can’t reach their sponsors! If you add these indicators up, it appears as though customers and outsourcers are having a communication problem.

Respondents from Western Europe ranked their obstacles nearly the same as those in North America, with two exceptions. Their projects don’t seem to be impacted by Challenging Schedules. The relationship between their project management responsibilities, and the authority to carry them out, is more of an obstacle in Western Europe than in North America. Could this be some core differences in the predominant processes at play? Could it be the impact of Prince2 in Europe vs. PM-BOK in North America?

Imagine a project environment in which all pertinent processes are understood clearly and agreed to by all key parties. Processes are used effectively and automated systems make them less onerous. Every project team member communicates clearly with each other, while each member is highly motivated. All project tasks are processed with complete accountability by responsible parties. Is this project environment a utopian ideal that is achievable? It’s debatable, but the ideal does offer us the proverbial “moon” to shoot for, and leads us to the understanding that even with the best processes and systems in place, the key to managing a project to success remains tied to the level of soft skills developed in all team members.

About MüTō MüTō Performance Corp. ( ) develops managers through an innovative approach to corporate training. MüTō customizes seminars and programs to mitigate client specific challenges impacting projects and corporate strategies. Their methods address the root cause of most management failures by developing core communication, motivation, and accountability skills. Post-course, MüTō continues to support participants through their unique mentoring programs, a powerful method in transforming these critical skills into long-term, productive habits.

Results of MüTo Performance Corp.’s comprehensive analysis of each of the Top 10 Obstacles to Project Success, the examination of early detection methods, and exploration of mitigation paths will be covered in upcoming MüTō articles and discussion boards available on LinkedIn, and at

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