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Military, medical and aviation technical projects in electronics, radio frequency, mechanics and software.

What Are The Common Causes of Project Failure?

The causes of project problems or failure can be many and varied, and I wouldn't attempt to list all the reasons here. However, over the years there are some statements that I have heard repeated time and time again. Long experience shows that there are some common problems that blight many projects. Here are a few of the typical statements I hear that are worth sharing:

  • "It's taken much longer than we thought..."
  • "It's cost more than we thought, and we've run out of money..."
  • "It's more complex than we imagined..."
  • "The client kept asking for more bells and whistles, which caused long delays..."
  • "The client had no idea what they really wanted in the first place..."
  • "It was impossible to get the device approved without major re-design..."
  • "They went for the cheapest option, but the costs later down the line just kept growing and growing..."
  • "A key member of staff left for another company halfway through the project..."

Any of the above familiar to you?

The fact is, everyone is usually in a rush. Time is money!

And there always seems to be a valid reason to rush. It might be important to demonstrate that a new idea or concept works to trigger more funding; to 'get there before the other guys' (the competition); to take a product to market before the Christmas season.

Sometimes there is pressure from the client because they're in a hurry for a whole raft of reasons; or maybe from your own boss and the bottom line dictated by the CFO. If it's a bad situation, you may have a combination of all of these, and more.

The effects of all of the 'excuses' listed above (and many of the other problems that aren't) can be minimised by good front-end planning and risk analysis - backed up by good team communications and appropriate reviews. Not just in the engineering/technical domain, but in the financial one too.

It can be very tempting to cut corners on planning and generating early documentation, as it appears to be an almost pointless exercise which delays progress. However tiresome it may seem to be, that is nothing compared to how difficult and time-consuming it can be to create it towards the end of the project. If you see or hear attempts to neglect documentation - be afraid, be very afraid...

One important reason for proper planning is because you might have to do it: it may be dictated by the area in which you intend to work. For example, in medical devices the ISO-13485 and ISO-14971 standards set the quality system framework and risk analysis method under which the project must proceed. Of course these aren't the only standards: there are more - many more.

It's easy to be wise after the event - but wisdom doesn't appear on the balance sheet. Good planning right from the start can play a huge role in ensuring a successful project.

If you don't want to find yourself echoing one of those common excuses for failure, let us at Vivitronics help with the planning, minimise the risks, and enhance communications. In a competitive global market you need all the help you can get.

Vivitronics Ltd, Dunkeswell, Honiton, Devon, UK. Registered in England No. 08437872

Vivitronics Technical Consultants offer full Technical Project Management and Consultancy in electronic product design and manufacturing. We can assist at all project stages from initial concept to production: Technical Analysis; Risk analysis; Rapid Design (hardware and software); Rapid prototypes; Industrial Design; Full Project Management; Design and Project Reviews; Sourcing manufacturers and suppliers; Validation and Verification; Approvals processes to ISO 9000, FDA Title 21, 60601, EU Directives; Patents and Intellectual Property. Our expertise lies in the fields of military, medical, aviation and general electronics.

Vivitronics is a member of the British Standards Institute. We adhere to the ISO13485:2012 Quality Management System, and are currently working toward achieving certification (expected 2016).

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