Project Management

8 Lessons To Learn from a Failed Project

In the vaguest sense, a failed project can teach you and your project team “how not to do it next time” and “what doesn’t work.” Just about everyone in business has heard these platitudes, but in the midst of failure it can be difficult to remember that they really do have truth to them. Failed projects offer the gift of opportunity to those willing to re-evaluate what went wrong and learn from their mistakes.

1. Strengthen Your Weaknesses

When a project fails, it can help you to pinpoint the weaknesses that led to the project’s downfall. When you don’t know what your weaknesses are, it can be difficult or even impossible to work on them and strengthen those areas. Take the time to carefully examine which parts of the project seemed to flow the least smoothly and/or seem to be the most difficult, and learn how you and your team can improve in those areas.

2. Re-Evaluate Your Team

Sometimes the blame for a project’s failure clearly lies with a few individuals. In other cases the blame may lie in the fact that your project’s team simply lacked some key characteristics or had too many of one characteristic. As an example, you may have had too many “idea people” and not enough practical implementers. Evaluate your team and compile a new team if necessary.

3. Examine Your Strategy and Organization

Projects sometimes fail because they aren’t organized in a strategic or effective manner. Re-examine how strategy and organization (or lack thereof) may have contributed to your project’s inability to make it to the successful completion stage.

4. Keep Costs Under Control

If lack of funding contributed to your project’s failure, plan a more effective budget for the next time around. Look at any areas where your project went over budget and figure out what caused the excess in spending, then come up with ways to keep those costs under control for the next project. If you didn’t have a clear budget, examine the costs you incurred on your failed project and use those figures as a way to springboard into your next project with new financial wisdom.

5. Set Achievable Objectives

Look at your most recent project’s failures as a way to understand what is and isn’t achievable. Investigate any areas where you and your team may have tried to accomplish something that was simply unreasonable given the time or resources available to you. Use this information when planning out your next project to set achievable objectives.

6. Assess Your End Goals

Did your project have clear and measurable end goals? Examine which goals, if any, did get reached and which ones did not. Consider whether or not the end goals were realistic for the project at hand. Understand what factors contributed to your project’s inability to make it to the end stage. For example, if your team ran out of time to complete the project, you can use that information when planning a timeline for your next project.

7. Figure Out What Did Work

Even if the project as a whole didn’t succeed, that doesn’t mean that it’s a total loss. As with any failure, you can re-examine different aspects of the project to understand what did work and apply those things to your next project. For example, even if your project ran over project ran over budget and couldn’t be completed, perhaps your team learned or developed new capabilities as a result of working on the project.

8. Realize that Working Hard Doesn’t Guarantee Success

This realization can be the key to letting go and enjoying the journey rather than focusing on the destination. Especially if you’re working in a highly innovative or cutting-edge field, not every project you or your company attempts will become a success. Understand that this is the nature of the game, and let this knowledge propel you to take on projects that you will enjoy being a part of regardless of the outcome.

Many times failed or uncompleted projects become the seeds of a successful project. Learn from any mistakes or shortcomings that led to the failure of your most recent project and use those lessons when starting your next project. Failure is often simply a necessary experience that ultimately paves the way to success.