Proficiencies in project management and its tools do not promise project successes

John Doe is a proud man. How could he not be? After working a few years as an engineer, he spent many nights and weekends pursuing a master certificate in project management from a reputable education institute and has just been freshly bestowed the prestigious affidavit. He grins as he envisions the new home, the new car, and the long awaited vacation that he can get with the bigger salary from the new job he’s starting next week. Although the hiring manager had told him that the project had been delinquent ever since its inception, he is confident that his new proficiency in the IPECC (Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing) methodology as detailed in PMBOK (Project Management Book Of Knowledge) by PMI (Project Management Institute) and his expertise on the tools (Excel, PowerPoint, Microsoft Project, etc.) will enable him to turn this once unbridled project into a harmonious symphony under his conductorship.

There exist derailing factors to cause project ruptures

Unfortunately John could very well have an oversight. Seasoned Project Directors (PD) know that proficiencies in project management and relevant tools are not sufficient to ensure project successes. There exist many derailing factors that could cause project illnesses and even failures. To lead his project to success, John needs to assess the project environments to detect potential derailing factors, and strive to mitigate the identified culprits. Since the project has already fallen behind, he really has no time to slowly figure out what the frail factors are. Luckily for John, there exist a few most impactful derailing factors common to all projects, and ailing any one of them would hurt or even crash the projects. This common set of most atrocious derailing factors is indeed the best starting point for Project Directors to appraise their project environments against to reveal where mitigation efforts are warranted. Will John find this out in time and steer his project clear of the doomed collision course?

Subduing the six most detrimental derailing factors should be number one priority

Derailing factors abound, six are most atrocious. If they are left untreated, other damaging factors will creep in and start disintegrating the projects. These six form the very memorable acronym LEMONS which truly manifests the metaphor that projects will collapse when these LEMONS are not kept in check. Here are these six LEMONS factors:

  • Lacking customer involvement: Customers must be involved all through the project cycles. They are endowed with very prominent roles in the SCRUM project management practices where they need to review, accept, and reject each Sprint deliverables. Similarly IPECC schooled Project Directors must require customers to sign off on the original requirements, as well as participate and sign off on each milestone reviews to avoid final deliverables misaligned with customer expectations. Any customer expectation misalignment has better be detected early when there may still be time to make adjustments.
  • Excessive requirements: When resources are not adequate to complete the scoped deliverables against the required schedules, projects are set to fail. Projects need to be planned out at the onset with sufficient resources, buffered schedules, and well agreed upon project management processes to safeguard them from the unexpected. Anything less is like swimming in shark infested waters unprotected, their fates are pretty much doomed.
  • Missing executive sponsorship: Executive sponsorship is the key factor. Weak sponsorship is equivalent to opening the Pandora box of perils. Projects with meager executive support will be seen as unimportant by many team members who would give higher priority to their other commitments. Project Directors would not be able to hold back stakeholder delinquencies when their projects are deemed nonessential, and they are most likely underpowered since the beginning to enforce commitments.
  • Overlooking the importance of empowerment: It is vital that Project Directors are adequately empowered to truly own their projects. They need to be able to make judgment calls on crucial decisions including accepting or rejecting scope changes, adjusting resource allocations, modifying milestones and schedules, and holding stakeholders accountable for their commitments. Underpowered Project Directors are frequently forced to accept scope changes without the authority to make necessary alterations on schedules, resources, and other vital areas. This is essentially casting death spells to the projects.
  • Noncommittal on ownerships: Nothing gets done when the task owners do not deliver against their commitments. It would be worse if Project Directors do not have any power to reprimand the delinquents. Wise Project Directors always secure stakeholder commitments before they finalize schedules, and they regularly verify project statuses to ensure schedule alignments and avoid surprises. When Project Directors cannot have the stakeholders’ commitments, project distresses are looming on the horizon.
  • Scope creep: When market signals change, customers might want to adjust their original requirements to revise the final deliverables to favor the shifted market. When projects are already in motion, these changes have to be administered carefully through scope change processes which must be fully integrated into the existing project management practices. Ad hoc style scope change management will most likely add chaos into the environment that would confuse team members and wreck havocs on the project milestones, resources, deliverables, and expectations.



Project Directors (PD) have to be cognizant of the three pillars of project managements – proficiencies, tools, and environment. Project Managers (PM) and Team members have to be proficient to execute on their pieces, proper tools have to be available to facilitate the team members’ works, and the project environment have to be free of project LEMONS to give the projects fighting chances to succeed. On all practical purposes, project LEMONS should be every Project Director’s first thing to detect and fix. If LEMONS exist, efforts spent fixing other ailing factors may turn out to be futile. Project Directors need to figure out how to turn the LEMONS into lemonade before spending efforts on other maladies. Project Directors must remember that skills can be enhanced, tools can be purchased, but some companies’ LEMONS may just be hard to tame.

Do you check your project LEMONS?

Author: Chi-Pong Wong (All Rights Reserved by the author)

Source: Original Text (based upon first hand knowledge)
Image: © dolgachov –
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Chi-Pong Wong is a seasoned thought leader in program management, customer experience, and supply chain strategy. He is an influencer on several LinkedIn groups and has published on leading online magazines including Project Times, PM Hut, Project Management, Customer Think, Business Review, UX Matters, Supply Chain Brain, and other popular journals. He earned a MA in Economics at SUNY @ Stony Brook, and a MS in Computer Science at Duke University. He has worked previously at Arrow Electronics, IBM, STMicroelectronics, NEC Electronics, and is currently with Hewlett-Packard. He can be reached at Linkedin and [email protected]