Thoughtscape: Thoughts and Tips from Mike Clayton


Issue 8

  Avoid Failure:
Six common causes of project failure - and what to do about them.
    News and views


  Dear %1
As Risk Happens! approaches the bookshop shelves, let's go to the source of the problem: project failure.

Project failure seems to be almost endemic at the moment. There are frequent press reports of massively over-spent Government projects, and major commercial project delayed or cancelled. Anyone who works in a big organisation will have seen it up close, but we are now living through a time when our institutions and corporations can least afford investments that do not deliver results.

In Risk Happens! I identify ten of the commonest reasons why projects fail. Each one is strategic, predictable and, most important can be avoided. Here, I will examine the first six of them.

1. Goal and Objectives
The project goal and objectives are either unclear, or are disconnected from the organisation’s other priorities, leading to a weak case for change. This is really two reasons for the price of one.

Invest time up front getting a strong definition signed off by strategic level managers.

2. Stakeholders
People have unrealistic expectations, leading to a determination of failure despite the project meeting its goal and objectives. Stakeholders will always have the last word on success or failure.

Prioritise stakeholder management at all stages of your project.

3. Sponsorship
Senior people in leadership roles fail to accept responsibility for the project, and do not give it the support, commitment and leadership it needs. This often leads to an over-reliance on consultants or contractors.

Unless you have clear and committed sponsorship, fold the project now.

4. Resistance
People resist the changes that the project brings or resist participating in the process, often because their role in the project’s success is under-valued by the team. Rule 1: people resist change. So what will you do about it.

Plan time into your programme to engage positively with the inevitable resistance.

5. Skills
Project management, change management, stakeholder management and risk management skills are lacking. Often, functional managers are co-opted into project management roles with little or no preparation.

If you can’t secure experienced project managers, provide high levels of training and support.

6. Planning
The project is poorly planned, without a sound basis for estimates of schedule and resources, leading to unrealistic deadlines or budget. And worse still, project managers believe their plans too early, with little or no supporting evidence.

Stress-test your plans and never consider them complete without full risk mitigation and contingency plans included.

For more information
Each of these threats (and the other four) are fully addressed in "Risk Happens! Managing Risk and Avoiding Failure in Business Projects".  The first copies are on their way to bookstores and will be available from 15 January.  You can pre-order from Amazon.


Time Orientation and
the Future of Society

I opened Brilliant Time Management with an introduction to Philip Zimbardo’s research into “time orientation”.  In his book, The Time Paradox, he identifies six time perspectives...

Read more, and see a fabulous animation of Zimbardo's ideas accompanying him describing them, at


Lessons from The Apprentice

My lessons from The Apprentice are getting far more attention than I had expected and are even read by candidates!  After Episode 8, I embarked on an analysis of each of the last six candidates. 

Yesterday, I looked at Jim Eastwood, today at Susan Ma and tomorrow at Natasha Scribbins (the link won't work until 10am on 6 July).  Last week I examined Melody Hossaini, Tom Pellereau and Helen Milligan.

To read each article as it comes out, go to my blog or subscribe to my rss feed.


Risk Happens!
Risk Happens! Managing risk and avoiding failure in business projects has been printed.  Copies are now in distribution and I am hoping to see them before I head out on holiday.

Risk Happens! is my favourite book to date.  It is the book I wanted to write about project risk, and there are no constraints imposed by a series format.  There is more in this than in any of the competing titles and it is suitable for new project managers whilst offering something new to experienced hands.

Whether you are organising an event or promoting your business, or you are leading a multimillion pound project, Risk Happens! will give you the tools to manage risk and avoid failure.

See the contents and learn more about the book at, or on the publisher's website, The Business Bookshop.


Stronger Impact - 4 October
Angela Marshall and I have made great progress with planning our one-off event in October:

How to Make a Stronger Impact
when Selling and Presenting

The event will be from 9am to 1pm on 4 October, at Fetcham Park House in Surrey.  You will hear me speak on business influence and how to present a persuasive argument, and Angela will explain how having the right professional image and business etiquette will give a great boost to your profile.

You will also get complimentary copies of my book, Brilliant Influence, and Angela's book, Being Truly You in the men's or women's edition.

We have published details of the content of our talks on the Stronger Impact website, or you can find out more on LinkedIn.


More Influence - scientifically
Last night, I had great fun speaking at the Winchester Cafe Scientifiqe, on The Psychology of Influence.  Thank you to a great audience at an absolutely packed Bridge Patisserie for some fascinating questions.

Do look up your own local branch - they are great fun!  Details of the event here.

Book News
Brilliant Stress Management is now in the final stages.  Proofs are corrected, so I hope to see copies soon.  Publication dates are:

Brilliant Stress Management
12 August

Brilliant Project Leader is with Pearson's copy editor.  I am looking forward tremendously to publication in December.

Brilliant Project Leader
6 December

To support each book, I have set up a daily digest of the very best English language blogs from around the web on the subjects of Projects and Stress, to supplement my  well-established and popular digest of time management writing.  If these subjects interest you, please do subscribe to:


Please do forward this newsletter to anyone you think would enjoy it.

If you have had this forwarded to you
...and you have enjoyed it, please email me to let me know and I will add you to the subscription list.


My focus this year ...
... is on writing, responding to press enquiries, and new speaking engagements.  If you know a conference organiser who is looking for an engaging speaker with great testimonials, please do send them to my website:  If you need a speaker now, just contact me using the links below, or the contact form on my website.  You can download my speaker pack here.

Best regards


I recognise you get a lot of email and I don't want to add unwanted inbox clutter.  I intend to give useful tips and thoughts, but if you don't wish to get any more, I will understand, so just click the "no more emails" link and they'll stop.

Many thanks

    Please contact me ...
... Tel: 08456 441349
... on Twitter @mikeclayton01

no more emails 
© Mike Clayton, 2011