VOICES In the Trenches
Look to your organization’s strategy and processes to prevent project failure.
By Grace Willis, PMP
Grace Willis, PMP, is a Scrum master within
the product support team of MedAssets,
Saddle River, New Jersey, USA.
PROJECT MANAGERS OFTEN TAKE THE FALL
for failures, even though a project consists of many
working parts. But the real culprit is often a lack of
strategy and processes to support a project’s successful delivery.
In my career, I have not seen executives realize,
much less acknowledge, the inherent bond among
strategy, process and projects. Instead, I have been
assigned to projects that were incomplete ideas.
It often happens like this: Something tied to
operations is not working well. A decision-maker
opts to try to solve the problem with a project.
A project manager is hired, a staff member is
assigned to be the project
manager or a software
developer is promoted
to the role. A third-party
vendor—regardless of quali-
fications—is engaged. No
one checks to see if there
is a master services agree-
ment with a similar vendor
somewhere else in the orga-
nization. Team members
are drafted to the project
regardless of skill level,
commitment and availabil-
ity. The team is reluctant
to voice concerns to the
The project begins and
goes wrong immediately:
Tasks are delayed, and team members begin to
skip meetings and conference calls—or worse, they
attend but are mentally absent. Eventually, the
vendor collects money for a bad product or service,
and the project manager is blamed.
More than a project manager failure, this fiasco
is due to a lack of strategy and process.
No project should ever make it past the proposal
stage without being aligned to a corporate strategy.
Corporate strategy is a well-thought-out directive
of where the organization is headed in order to
serve its market. The initiatives required in order
to put this strategy into effect are then articulated
and delegated. A corporate strategy is essential
before any potential projects are born, and strategy
drives not only the projects but also their scope
Next, before the project begins, a feasibility
analysis should result in identification of existing
processes. Does the organization even have processes? If so, how do they potentially support or
hinder the project? What are the gaps? If there are
existing gaps that would hinder progress, can they
A process analysis needs to be performed by
a Six Sigma expert. Process analysis is critical to
successful project implementation as it allows for
a conscientious and comprehensive review of the
infrastructure in place that transcends relevant
groups, like business and IT. Variations across
internal groups and regional and international
locations should also be taken into consideration if
this is an enterprise-wide project. The practicality
and likelihood of successfully bridging these process gaps pre-launch need to be identified, as these
gaps represent risk.
Then of course, there is the real work involved.
Get processes on track before even thinking about
project kickoff. It is amazing to me that many projects get off the ground, even with a feasibility study
having purportedly been conducted, when there
was no consideration of either strategy or process.
Strategy, process and projects are inextricably
interwoven. Ignore any one of these elements,
and you have set yourself up for failure. Only by
respecting these ties that bind can you avert blame
and your organization avoid having its projects join
the large percentage of projects that fail to meet
their objectives, are delivered late, exceed their
budgets or get scrapped altogether. PM