Why do projects not follow the plan?

Depressing as it may be, the main reason I’ve seen is that many project plans are unrealistic.  And even more depressing this is often because people don’t like saying no.  I think what often happens is that the doers, ie. the people who make it happen, don’t want to risk their reputation – or even their job security – by listing the numerous tasks that need to be completed to successfully complete a project.

Therefore, a project owner ends up with a plan that doesn’t contain all the requisite tasks nor has unrealistic activity and milestone dates.  Is this of any help to anyone – of course not.  This type of project planning means everyone will be unhappy.

So what needs to change?  Probably the simplest thing of all – communication.  Employees, and specifically project managers, shouldn’t feel afraid of saying how long (or how much) they believe tasks will take.  If the owner thinks the timeframes or budgets are excessive, they have the authority to find ways of changing them.  But if they don’t have the full facts, there’s no way they can do this.

After all, most project plans are private, documents – so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be completely honest and transparent.  With every task, however minor, included it is much simpler for the project owner to understand why the project will take a certain amount of time and money to complete. 

Any ensuing discussion to cut back timeframes or costs should then be with all the relevant team members.  After all, everyone is on the same side – if they’re not, they shouldn’t be on the project.  Working together, the team can carry out a review to see if tasks and timeframes can be shortened  or budgets lowered. 

And if, at the end of the day, the project was laid out accurately and no savings can be made, the project owner is now in full possession of the facts and can make the appropriate decision on the way forward.