The Three Myths of Project Breakdown

Myths of Project Breakdown


Myth One: We’re Unique

Just like individuals, every company is unique, and every corporate culture has it’s own particular combination of strengths and weaknesses. This typically leads to the mistaken assumption that the issues sabotaging their projects are unique as well. When it comes to project breakdowns however, every organization predictably finds themselves in the same leaky boat. As long as this myth of exceptionalism persists it will typically cause the people in these companies to look in the wrong places for causes and misidentify solutions (i.e.: Our high level of project failure occurs because we don’t have a standard project management software platform.)

To dispel this myth I show them my list of the ten most common project complaints:

1. Everyone enters the project running on overload.
2. Rushing leads to poorly defined goals at the project’s inception.
3. Unrealistic completion dates leave the team feeling they’ve been “set up to fail.”
4. A sense of urgency causes poor communication.
5. Feeling the crunch, the planning effort is reduced or skipped entirely.
6. Other departments fail to support the project creating delays.
7. Continued breakdowns trigger blame and finger pointing.
8. Scope expands as customers request additional features.
9. Endless meetings to sort it all out lack focus, run too long, rehash the same territory, are dominated by a few people, and fail to produce or complete action items.
10.Constant fire fighting consumes ever more time and effort.

Clients tend to find this list very reassuring because it tells them not only that their problems are understood, but also, because they are so familiar and predictable, they may be fixable aw well.

Myth Two: It’s the Idiot Out There

Ask anyone about any problem they are encountering, including the ten listed above, and the first thing they are likely to tell you about is somebody else. Unrealistic deadlines are caused by the unrealistic demands of upper management, inadequate resources are caused by the lack of cooperation and support from people in the other department, unreasonable customers drive scope creep, and so forth. The good news about this myth is that it leaves us innocent. The bad news, of course, is that it leaves us helpless because we can’t change other people. The first step to finding a solution to these problems is to fit ourselves back into the story by asking, “What am I doing or failing to do that could be contributing to these breakdowns?” When I finally see how my own actions contribute to the problem, I can also see how altering my own behavior might help fix it.

Myth Three: We Don’t Have the Time

In principle everyone agrees with the adage, “measure twice, cut one,” but if the extra time required for that double checking extends a carpentry job by a day or two it may add a few hundred dollars to the final price tag. In Silicon Valley that extra couple of days costs a company millions. My job is to give training participants the direct experience of a range of easy behavioral shifts that take little extra time, but can reduce or eliminate every item on the list of chronic breakdowns above. I’ll share some specifics in future blogs.


1 thought on “The Three Myths of Project Breakdown”

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    Right on, Barry! As you say, the problems of many projects aren’t new – they are entirely predictable, and largely avoidable, leading to a post-project “lessons learned . . . again!”, which I call “Lessons Not Learned”. Being bored of seeing projects fail for the same boring reasons prompted me to write my book “Scrappy Project Management – The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces”. If we can’t prevent all problems, let’s at least free our project teams to make NEW and MORE EXCITING mistakes!

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