Why Projects Fail: Lessons from a Business Analyst

Establishing the exact cause of project failure is one of the most complex and controversial subjects in the industry. How does one zero it down to one single factor amidst a multitude of interrelated factors? Huge projects are a web of often-conflicting objectives and self-satisfying demands, with no one willing to take the blame should things go south.

Before I delve into the heart of this post, let me shed some light on my background: I am a mid-level analyst working for a multi-national corporation. I became an analyst somewhat by accident. During my undergraduate degree, I’d imagined I would end up as a software programmer but as you may have already guessed, that didn’t happen.

Over the course of my 5 years as an analyst, I encountered all manners of users (permit me to call them users) from the extremely hostile to the technologically timid. I like to think that the category of users I’ve handled along the line qualify me to be sent on practically any diplomatic mission - though that’s not to say that some nice ones didn’t come my way. Though I’d never thought of myself as a warm person, I soon realised that to become an efficient and effective analyst, I needed a mix of confidence, curiosity, humour, patience and understanding.

As a business analyst, I act as a bridge between end users and developers. My job is to ask the necessary questions (which most times, no one else wants to ask) to deliver effective software solutions for business improvement.

My opinion on why projects fail?

A lack of cooperation amongst business, ICT, project managers and business analysts can and does reduce the chances of project success. Everyone should be willing to take responsibility for their part and join hands together to ensure a successful outcome without resorting to blame shifting.

Aside the qualifications and experience that hiring managers look for in employees, basic interpersonal skills also matter. It goes without saying that to get the best results from project teams, everyone should treat the next person with respect. A situation where project team members don’t get along can cause project failure very quickly.

I’ll shed more light on this.

I was once the sole BA assigned to a project initiated to develop a customized ERP software for a logistics company. The Project Manager of the client company was extremely caustic and aggressive. She believed she could only get the team members to deliver through intimidation and a healthy dose of yelling.

Though she wasn’t a subject matter expert of either the industry or the software, only her opinion mattered. It was just a matter of time before we had a clash of wills. 

Due to the numerous change requests she accommodated, the project went behind schedule and above budget. Eventually, we had an altercation on the ever-expanding scope (even though we had an approved requirements document and scope statement). She complained about my incompetence and lack of direction (how ironic) and I was perplexed at her lack of professionalism. The other project team members eventually intervened and we were able to come to a compromise on the scope. The project ended up being a failure though and was never completed. The blame game began.

While I accept the blame for not drawing attention to the ever-expanding requirements scope early enough, I can’t help but stress the importance of a good working relationship between the project manager and business analyst. Project success can only happen if each team member steps up to their responsibility, demands that others be accountable for their part, calls attention to any visible missteps as early as possible and treats other team members with respect, especially by valuing other's opinions. Blame shifting never works and is often a charade to draw attention away from one’s incompetencies.