Regardless of the geographical context, in practice, we usually find a set of reasons why such projects can – and usually – fail.
Little or no planning: Perhaps the main reason that a project fails is not having a clear objective, scope or estimated timeline. Often when we support project identification processes, we see this problem when the main interested parties (stakeholders) fail to agree and define common goals and objectives, as well as how to obtain said goals or results. Many times, the underlying reason comes from the limited negotiating capacity of the parties or knowledge disparity at the time of discussion (public sector vs civil society, for example). In both cases, training or facilitation is necessary.
Another cause that we find in the field associated with errors in defining the project scope comes when teams focus on a solution that has not been validated, whether technically or financially. We see this when an in-depth investigation of the situation and an adequate participatory diagnosis have not been carried out.
Biases: Whether due to excessive (and perhaps unfounded) optimism, inertia, or conformism, many times we find ourselves with unrealistic expectations about what a project can and should achieve. If your role is to facilitate an identification and design process, it will be part of your job to level or adjust these expectations.
Lack of leadership and commitment by the interested parties. This translates into a lack of ownership of the project, especially by those directly responsible. In turn, this makes it difficult to assume responsibility (accountability) or make critical decisions when things go wrong.
Inability to identify and engage key stakeholders. We constantly hear that the interested parties will determine the success of a project. For this reason, the lack of participation or not being able to add key stakeholders to the project and get their buy-in will lead us to the failure of our initiative. However, a fundamental distinction here is talking about key stakeholders. Do we need all the actors in a territory for our project to work? The answer is a definite no. What we need is to do a stakeholder mapping that allows us to identify who are those actors with sufficient interest, power, and legitimacy concerning the project, as well as what is their relationship with the others and what strategies we could use with each of them.
Not using lessons learned from past projects. It may seem obvious, but in practice, we see what has worked and -perhaps more importantly- what has not worked with similar projects. Thinking that our project “starts from scratch” usually makes us make mistakes that could easily have been avoided if we had taken these lessons into account (beware! Not only ours… other organizations and projects have a lot to teach us as well).
Are you interested in knowing more in detail how to avoid these errors? Take a look at our online course Project Management in development projects, which reviews in a practical way the application of the Logical Framework Approach in development projects. You will learn to use methodologies and tools through real examples of international cooperation projects.
For direct assistance in project management, process facilitation or project design, talk to our team here.
In the next post we are going to review more causes of why projects fail, focusing particularly on managing the project cycle (technical skills and tools) and analyzing external factors and how not having a well-defined risk matrix prevents us from reacting adequately when necessary … for example, in the middle of a pandemic (sounds familiar?).