Navigational Failure

The following entry is a part of the Pattern Library. The Pattern Library records the common patterns of events that have the potential to lead to project failure.

Pattern name : Navigational Failure

In brief :
Team lacks leadership and oversight in one or more dimensions resulting in errors and omissions.

Description :
Technology projects require decision making in three primary domains; the business domain, the technology domain and the organizational (or management) domain.  Where leadership is lacking in one or more of these domains the chances of project failure are greatly increased.

Leaders perform a number of critical roles including;

  1. Setting goals and direction
  2. Identifying, making and bringing stability to key decisions
  3. Ensuring end-to-end integrity of the solution
  4. Ensuring effective communications between team members
  5. Providing oversight of the work performed by the team to ensure quality standards are being maintained and that all efforts are properly aligned.

A common theme in troubled projects is the failure to establish effective leadership in one or more of the three domains.  Since organizations have placed greater importance on the role of the Project Manager over recent years a breakdown in business or technical leadership has become the most common manifestation of the theme.

Note: this pattern refers to leadership at an operational level rather than at the higher sponsorship or senior management levels.  The goal of operational leadership is to ensure the overall integrity and completeness of the work being done.

Negative effects :

  1. Left shifting (the failure to identify and address key strategic, organizational and architectural decisions)
  2. Failure to ensure end-to-end integrity of the solution (resulting in errors and omissions)
  3. Indecision and volatility as a result of a lack of clear direction
  4. Intellectual disintegration (different groups head of in different directions due to communications breakdowns)
  5. Formation of silos that prevent communications between groups
  6. Duplication of effort and/or omissions due to a failure to manage the big picture
  7. Failure to provide quality oversight results in low grade deliverables and the associated problems.

Common Root Causes :

  1. Belief that the Project Manager is the leader and there is no need for leadership in the business or technical domains
  2. Assigning someone to perform one of the leadership roles who lacks the skills or knowledge to perform the role effectively.

Suggested Actions :

  1. Ensure leadership in all three domains is clearly established
  2. Ensure those assigned to the roles have the right level of skills and knowledge to perform the roles effectively
  3. Encourage the complete team to reflect leadership behaviors (such as proactively looking for and addressing errors and omissions)

Note : Some argue that teams don’t need leaders and that everyone involved needs to be a leader.  Certainly such teams do exist and as long as everyone understands what leadership behaviors they need to perform this can be a workable model.  However for larger projects the need for dedicated leadership becomes more distinct due to the number of people needing to be coordinated and the increased complexity.