When your project goes wrong, who is the scapegoat?

All too often when projects hit problems, or fail to deliver, fingers start scanning around for someone to pin the blame on. Be it an individual, a team or a set of seemingly uncontrollable external circumstances, it’s a common response to the complex challenges projects can throw up.

When working on the recovery of a project that’s not achieving its aims this is the scapegoat I am looking for:

Structure – does the project have a clear structure that encompasses all relevant elements, is it clearly understood and simple to communicate and monitor

Communication – is there a comms plan; have different stakeholder needs been considered; is the project team listening as well as telling?

Accountability – are there clear points of accountability? Is there clear and visible leadership?

Purpose – is the purpose of the project clearly understood and are the benefits demonstrable?

Engagement – are key stakeholder groups, including the project sponsor, engaged? Do they care about the outcome?

Governance – is the governance structure clear? Are timely decisions being made? Are risks understood and being managed?

Out of scope – are out of scope elements creeping in to the project?

Authority – do the project team and leadership have authority to act?

Time – have clear deadlines been set for delivery? What are the consequences of not meeting these?

When projects are struggling it is usually because of something missing within this SCAPEGOAT model. And more often than not there are multiple reasons. Unpicking these can be complex and challenging, especially when there has already been significant investment in the project. Bringing in an external, objective view to assess and identify these issues can help you to identify the root cause of the problems your project is facing and from this point of understanding you are in a much better position to build a strategy for recovery and successful delivery


Caroline Doran is a project consultant working with busy senior leaders at times of change and transition. She helps organisations turn strategic ideas into operational realities.

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