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It’s not rocket science… why do projects fail?

The answer can, of course, be for many reasons. But in fact, one key reason can be found right in that four-word question: WHY do projects fail?

The primary reason why projects fail is because WHY you are trying to do what you’re trying to do in the first place was never established. Certainly not properly.

“What a load of old tosh, Pratto”, I hear you cry!

Well, if one aspires to be a master black belt Jedi Ninja Project Manager, one should take heed of this amazing insight.

Why, why, why? Why indeed.

To understand why the why is so important, let us digress for a minute.

Back in 1962, a spritely older gentleman armed with a broom was sweeping the corridors of the building in which he worked, as he had done every day for the past 17 years. This gentleman was a gold medal dirt destroyer, a first-class rubbish remover, an inspired sweeper of scraps. As he was going about his work, he was approached by a younger gentleman wearing a very sharp suit, who interrupted his beautiful brushing to ask what would appear to be a seemingly obvious question:

“What do you do here, sir?”

The wise old boy stopped his spectacular scrubbing to answer the man.

“Why sir, I am putting a man on the moon!”.

The smart gentleman smiled, nodded and respectfully held his left hand on the older man’s shoulder.

The suited gentleman in question was JFK, conducting a tour of the NASA space agency who were undertaking one of the greatest projects ever.

You see, in his famous “we choose to go to the moon” speech on 12th September 1962, John F. Kennedy delivered a powerful and inspiring “Why” to the large crowd gathered at Rice Stadium in Houston, Texas. A “Why” so powerful that it emboldened a species of mammal that only a few thousand years earlier had been huddled in small groups surviving on whatever food they had scavenged that day to pull together in their thousands to propel three men in a small metallic canister outside of their own planet, land on the moon and return safely.

So, back to why the ‘why’ is so important…

A while back, I ran a very large programme of work that didn’t have a “why” – it had a mandate from a senior sponsor, I had a fantastic team of highly capable people who I’d worked with successfully before, and we worked like the billy-o. But we had no “why”, so when it came to key decisions at steering meetings, things got tense and opinionated. And ultimately, after nine months and a lot of money spent, the Programme was stopped.

With the correct “why” up-front we’d have had a far greater chance of successful delivery, or we’d have been able to stop or reduce the Programme a lot earlier, at a lot less expense.

When people understand their “Why”, they are capable of amazing things. When each member of the group understands “Why” they are being asked to do something instead of simply “How” or “What” to do, they are inspired to achieve wonderful outcomes.

If you’re not already familiar with his work, Simon Sinek, a thought leader on “Why” delivered a TED talk and subsequent book which I consider as required reading to be a successful Project Manager. I suggest that upon completion of this article you immediately do the following two things:

1.   Watch Simon Sinek’s TED talk video

2.   Get the book Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone To Take Action

When you understand the “Why” for your project, and help others to understand it too, you will be one giant leap closer to delivery success.

Until next time…

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