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Why Web Projects Fail

Magazine article Online

Why Web Projects Fail

Article excerpt

Without planning, managing your project is like driving on a dark road with your headlights off.

Managing a Web project is a challenge. Any new intranet or Web area that rolls out on time and on budget-and works well for the users-has had hours of careful planning and management behind the scenes. As intranet Webmasters, we are often the de facto project manager for new projects.

Many of us have seen our share of successes and failures, acquiring our knowledge of project management in the school of hard knocks. Fortunately, there is an excellent resource for learning about the field-the PMBOK Guide: The Project Management Body of Knowledge. In addition to being an ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard (ANSI/PMI 99-001-2000), it is the definitive compilation of project management knowledge, courtesy of the Project Management Institute.

In this column, we'll describe typical reasons projects fail and how you can keep your project on track. But first, let's look at what makes a project. According to Robert K. Wysocki, Robert Beck, and David B. Crane, in their book Effective Project Management (John Wiley, 2000), "A project is a temporary sequence of unique, complex, and connected activities having one goal or purpose and that must be completed by a specific time, within budget, and according to specification." Determining whether something is a project, versus an operational activity, can be determined by asking a few questions: Is there a definite end to the sequence of activities? Can the outcome be measured? Is the group and sequence of activities unique?

This last question is tricky because there can be repeating elements, such as programming, that occur in projects. However, if the overall nature of activities results in a unique outcome, then it qualifies as a project.


Without planning, managing your project is like driving on a dark road with your headlights off. Planning generates "buy-in." Everyone has a chance to understand the plan, which contains the detailed information that explains what needs to be done, by whom, and by when. Corrective action is not possible if nothing to refer to exists.

A major reason for project failure is a dislike of planning. In some cases, people see planning as a waste of time. They either think the end result of planning is a pretty chart that makes a manager feel good, or they see the plan as a straightjacket that will be inflexible and prevent things from getting done. There may be other team members who wish to jump in and start working, in the belief that time is better spent doing "something" rather than planning.

The activities involved in planning are typically broken down into five general phases: defining, planning, team building, control and execution, and finally, review and exit. When planning in any of these phases is shortchanged, the foundational work of the project doesn't exist, which is the equivalent of building a house on quicksand.


The definition stage of a project is used to identify the client details, start date, scope and boundary of the work, constraints, assumptions, reporting requirements, deliverables, and budget. This is the point where business strategy is addressed most clearly. Questions frequently asked at this stage include: What is the background of the project? What are the project goals? What are the benefits that will be achieved when it is complete? Who are the key stakeholders? Who is the project sponsor?

Defining crisp, unambiguous requirements for a project can take time, energy, and lots of communication. For example, it is crucial to talk to all levels of staff who will use a proposed new system, not just the managers. This inherently involves more time, but it is time well spent. Management can present an idealized version of "what works," but that may be quite separate from the day-to-day reality. …

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