Plan and manage projects for success! (Part 1 of a continuing series)

Why do projects fail? There are many reasons, but they can be summed up under two headings: poor/inadequate planning and poor management.

Let us take this example:

“A handicraft project trained women to make shoulder bags for income generation. A year later there are large stocks of unsold bags, gathering dust.”

The intended outcome (benefit) of the project was income generation for the women. In order to achieve this, people should buy the bags. But the bags remained unsold and the women earned no income. True, the women learned a new skill (bag-making). But this skill (output of the training) was just the means towards achieving the project purpose, which was not realized.

Let us trace the possible thinking behind the project. First, the need to be addressed: lack of income. So, a project that would generate income for the women would be the suitable solution. Next question: The choice of strategy. The project chose selling a product that the women will make, in this case, shoulder bags, and for the women to make these, they have to be trained. Thus, the main project activity was training and for this to happen, the project needed resources (inputs) in the form of money, trainers, raw materials, venue, etc. After the training and after the women have made the bags, the next thing would be to sell them. As it happened, the bags accumulated, but were not bought.

And that’s the problem. The project delivered what it promised to do except achieve the most important result – the economic benefit. Something was lacking in the project design. And that’s the marketing part. The project could have done some market research during its planning stage to determine, among others, what kind of product to sell (which would determine whether the women already have the ability to make it or would need training); the salability of whatever the women would be selling; who would be the prospective buyers; the buyers’ preferences as to style, materials, colors, etc; what would be their buying capacity (which would help in determining quality of the product and pricing); where the products will be displayed and sold; and where they would be promoted.

Among the three levels of projects (output, outcome, impact), the project only has control over its output. But the design of a project could influence an outcome being achieved by the project. In the above-mentioned example, no attempt was made to influence the outcome (income generation). It delivered on new skills (output) and just assumed that the bags would sell. A project outcome cannot be assumed with a hope and a prayer. It must be ensured by the project. When it is not achieved, the project fails.

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