Why projects fail: The Hidden Danger of Low Hanging Fruit

Published by Derrick Jennings

Sometimes, for whatever reason the scope of an in-flight project is reduced.  Change is inevitable when it becomes clear that your project will not continue in its current form.  What happens next says a lot about the project team and the organisation that they work for.


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In some organisations the project will be scrapped. In others, a new project proposal will be created and subject to a formal approval process. These are acceptable outcomes given that business priorities are forever changing. However, all too often the decision is made to continue with the project in its diminished form.

Low hanging fruit.

Low hanging fruit (LHF) is the term that is used to describe those elements from the original project proposal that are perceived as having some benefit (not necessarily linked to a business outcome) that can be realised cheaply.

In chasing LHF the argument that is being made is that the partial implementation of the original project vision represents a good return on the investment that has already been made in the project and its team.  In my experience the opposite is true and chasing LHF has lead to fragmented systems that are expensive to maintain.  Here’s why.

Business outcomes

Business projects must be about business outcomes.  The project was originally conceived to deliver one or more business outcomes that form part of a wider strategic plan to deliver or sustain business growth.  When selecting LHF the project team are no longer focused on the original project vision or its desired outcome. Their focus has shifted and become inward looking.

  • What can we salvage?
  • What if anything can we deliver to demonstrate our value / worth?Thinking in these terms will likely result in resources being expended on initiatives that are not directly linked to a business objective and so can have little prospect of delivering  any tangible business value.

Complexity in the technology landscape

In order to advance their technology landscape some organisations incorporate system and process improvements in their business projects.  However, the benefits that accrue from such technology rationalisation efforts can only be achieved if all elements of the project are implemented.

Cherry-picking the best features to deliver based on their ease of implementation undermines the integrity of the project’s objectives.  This may make it more difficult to justify the additional expense involved in rolling out the new technology to other areas of the organisation. Where this is the case, the on-going cost of supporting multiple approaches to solving common problems will have to be borne by the organisation.

Return on Investment

A undesirable side-effect of continuing with the project in this way is that the project team are able to subvert the authority of the Project Approval Board by denying them the opportunity to perform due diligence on the project’s redefined scope. Without this control point the business is unable to determine if the revised project will yield a return on investment high enough to justify the expense.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with chasing LHF, caution is required in order to prevent well-meaning project teams from undermining the management team’s efforts to deliver value to the organisation’s shareholders.

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