What Keeps You Awake at Night?

Failing projects?

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford.

Much has been written about both success and failure. It is mostly regarding life itself, but it also applies to business.

Having been in consulting for over 40 years, I have known both success and failure with clients and their projects. Each is a learning experience and brings a high when success is achieved and some real lows when a failure occurs. I am a part of both as I become a part of the company I work with and not seeing them succeed bothers me to no end.

As the quote that starts this article states, failure is an opportunity.

And in the many articles on success, the authors state that failure is in fact a part of success. No one succeeds all of the time, even if they believe so in their own minds. What matters is what you learn from the failure so you do not repeat it again. Otherwise, it can become a regular thing, something no one wants.

In dealing with the many people in the various companies I have worked with and for, no one wanted to see failure of any kind. While some touted that they endorsed risk taking, they did so while emphasizing that nothing better go wrong at any time. So much for taking risks.

It was always interesting to see how failure or the thought of failure affected people. In the most extreme circumstances, it bothered them so much that they in fact lost sleep at night worrying about what was or could go wrong.

In many cases, I am sure that the concern or distress was overblown. If something was done that badly, the concern should be more about how it got to that point as opposed to that the project was an abject failure. A colleague of mine allowed a multi-million dollar  project to go over budget by 300% while allowing the time frame to slip by 6 months. Even when “completed”, the system he and the company were working on did not operate properly.

That would keep me awake at night for sure.

But, as I teach in my Project Management class,  the Project Manager should be identifying problem areas in advance and dealing with them  before they became a disaster such as that.

The same should hold true in this case and in many others. If one is going from one project mishap to another, then the cause for concern is how they are managing their projects and if they are in fact qualified to do so.

One thing I found that never solves the problem of a project or projects gone wrong is to stay awake at night worrying about it.

Taking care of a problem or problems is never solved by a loss of sleep. In fact, losing sleep only makes you less alert and rational and may lead to more and possibly worse issues.

What does work is to stop the bleeding (So to speak) as quickly as possible. And that is not done alone,  but by involving the project team and anyone else who can help to resolve what is going on. That is what good Project Mangers do.

All projects have problems. In my years of managing and working on them, I have yet to come across the perfect project where everything goes right and nothing ever goes wrong. The key in managing is to identify the problem and deal with it immediately before it festers and becomes harder to deal with.

Keeping projects from failing is not a monumental task. I teach my Project Management class about how to be successful by doing the following:

  • Be a part of the project planning

If you are a Project Manager and are handed a project that someone else devised, that is a big red flag. My experience is that if a Project Manager is left out of  the planning process the chances of project failure grow immensely unless he or she makes immediate changes.

As a project advisor to a major company that happened to the Project Manager. He was handed a project to build a new facility. The person who developed the plan and the budget was way off on his budget. The manager and I had to go and ask for an additional $25 million before any work was done. And he received grief for cleaning up the other person’s mess, as though he had caused the misestimate.

If you are faced with something like this, review the project and its plan. If there are problems, get them resolved immediately. Things never get better, only worse when ignored.

  • Make sure everyone involved with the project from the Steering Committee, to the Sponsor, to the team is on board with the proposed project outcome.

A good Project Manager starts good communication right from the start and continues it throughout the project. If there are doubts or disagreements by anyone, these need to be addressed and resolved. Otherwise,  those involved who are not bought in will not feel they are responsible if and when problems arise.

  • Develop a Charter

All projects need a charter. It is the project bible that summarizes all of the important aspects of the project including; Scope, budget, schedule, team, proposed outcome, possible risks and team members to name just some of the parts.

If and when changes occur in the project, the charter is revised to reflect these changes. It is accessible to all and defines what the project is. In any case of doubt, always refer to the Charter.

  • Recognize and plan for potential risks

All projects develop a problem or problems at some point. If these can be identified up front, actions can be taken to keep them from happening. You can then deal with them in a planned course of action when they do.

A good Project Manger realizes this and makes risk planning a part of the project plan, right from the start.

  • Conduct a project post mortem

At the close of every project, the team should get together to review what went right and what went wrong on the project. By doing so, they learn so that they will keep the good aspects and develop actions to  avoid the bad from happening again in the future.

Good organizations share these among all of their Project Managers so they learn from each other.

  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate

A good Project Manager communicates well. That  does not mean over communicating, but  providing the necessary information to the right people at the right times.

If this is done correctly, the chances of project success go up exponentially. If not, the opposite is true.


In conclusion, there are a number of things you can do to avoid project mishaps or even worse failures. As a good, competent Project Manager, these are the things you should be doing. If you do, there should be no more sleepless nights. And you will be outstanding and satisfied with the work you do. It is totally up to you.

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