P is for… People (part 1)

Now we’re getting to the meat.

Cobb’s Paradox:

“We know why projects fail, we know how to prevent their failure
-so why do they still fail?”

Martin Cobb Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
Since 1994 the Standish Group have been producing their Chaos Report. This project “ exposes the overwhelming failure of IT application development projects in today’s MIS environment”

From the 1994 report we can see the core reasons for failure: The factors that cause projects to be challenged were:

Project Challenged Factors

% of Responses

1. Lack of User Input


2. Incomplete Requirements & Specifications


3. Changing Requirements & Specifications


4. Lack of Executive Support


5. Technology Incompetence


6. Lack of Resources


7. Unrealistic Expectations


8. Unclear Objectives


9. Unrealistic Time Frames


10. New Technology




So, what conclusions can be drawn from these many years of research? One broad message is that, despite all the years of innovation and experience that have passed, as Cobb’s paradox suggests, nothing much has changed. What was problem a decade ago is still a problem now. Despite tools, techniques methodologies aplenty, projects still fail and for the same broad set of reasons.

This research clearly points at the major issues in project failure and with consistent results over so many projects over so many years it would seem entirely incontrovertible. There is a common thread in all the results that is concealed behind the detail. At the heart of all project failure is the people. This may seem obvious, after all, projects are conceived by, designed by, built by and used by people. It is clear that this human factor can never be removed from projects but, by understanding the nature of the influence of people on a project, certain key failure points can be targeted and improvements made. At least in part, this is perhaps at least part of the answer to the paradoxical question ‘so why do they still fail?’.

All the great processes and tools cannot make up for the fact that people are at the core of everything we try to do, and if the people aren’t up to it then there isn’t an awful lot you can do about it. Except to look for a saviour.

What this all points at is that there is only one thing you need to get right. Get the right people on your project. You do this by either getting your recruitment right or, within the existing resource pool, making sure you grab the good ones.

The quality of the people at the start of the project sets the upper limit of how well everything can go before all the usual stuff starts to go wrong.

Everything, EVERYTHING you try to do is based on and reliant on people. Get good ones, make sure they are happy, give them space and let them do their thing.

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