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Other interview questions that are similar
What are some of the common reasons that projects fail?
Have you ever worked on a project that was a failure?
Thinking about a project that was not entirely successful, what was the cause of the project missing expectations?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
This is a very popular question for interviewers to ask so you should not be concerned that the interviewer is hinting that you will have to handle a lot of failing projects in this role. That said do ensure that you have a good answer primed and ready to go.
The interviewer is looking for a few things when asking this question:
Firstly how experienced are you working within project teams? Nearly everyone who has been around project for a decent length of time will have experienced a failing project. There is no helping it. Projects fail for reasons outside of anyone’s control every day.
Secondly the interviewer wants to see how you handle failure, either your own failure, the failure of others or the failure of life itself to provide you with what you need.
Finally the interviewer is looking to see if you learn from the failures of the past and can take actionable steps to prevent them in the future.
The best approach to answering this question
As with any situational or behaviors question the best approach to this answer is to use the B-STAR technique:
B – Belief – It’s hard to have any positive beliefs / thoughts about failing projects, after all failure is not really something you want to achieve. The best thing to say here is that you always try your best to avoid a project failing by undertaking a full risk analysis prior to project start. You should also mention how you feel it is best not to get attached to projects and know when it is wise to cut your losses and terminate the project.
S – Situation – The best scenarios to describe in a interview are ones that had you play the starring role. Make the responsibility of pulling the plug on the project fall squarely on your shoulders.
T – Task – If you are the project lead this is fairly straightforward. Your task, as it is with every project you lead, is to deliver the project to the best of your ability and to regularly assess your assumptions and business justification for the project.
A – Action – Talk about the steps you took to evaluate whether the project was still a good idea. What sort of analysis was required? Then talk about how you actually killed the project and the steps you took to either minimize the losses or salvage any benefits.
R – Results – What was the aftermath of the project failing? The best scenario would describe how a project was failing, through no fault of your own, and you managed to close it down without incurring huge losses and even potentially getting some benefits from the project anyway.
How NOT to answer this question
“None of my projects have ever failed. With good planning you can always prepare for anything that is why my projects always succeed”
Don’t say anything like this. Saying that none of your projects have ever failed shows the interviewer that you have not been involved in enough projects. Projects fail from time to time it is as simple as that.
Even if you are the golden unicorn whose projects have never failed this is still the wrong answer to give. If you really are unable to come up with a single failing project then talk about a project that failed one of its metrics (e.g. it was late).
If every project you have ever worked on was a success and met all of its desired goals please write a book and tell us all your secrets.
“One project I was part of failed due to quality issues from one of the project team. Based on the outputs from this colleague we did not hit the target our product should have and management decided to can the project”
Don’t use an example like this when answering this question. Firstly it appears as though you are throwing another colleague under the bus which interviewers never look kindly on. Secondly in an example like this the interviewer will ask why this wasn’t identified as a risk and steps taken to mitigate that risk ahead of time, this will look bad on you as with this example it seems as though the project was reliant on a team member without the required skillset to perform the task at hand. At the end of the day project success or failure rests with the Project Manager. If you are interviewing for this role you need to accept fault and talk about what actions you took to mitigate and prevent re-occurrence.
Tell Me About A Project That Failed – Example answer
“Obviously I don’t like to see my projects fail. I always try to plan for enough scenarios and build in enough contingencies to my projects that I am ready for anything. But some times things change and what was going ok yesterday might not be today, so I also believe it’s best not to get too attached to projects and realise when it is the correct move – for the business – to wind the project down.
There was one occasion in early 2020 where a project was facing massive delays. We were attempting to offshore one of our processes and the next step in the project was to send a few trainers overseas to initiate the training sessions. Unfortunately, days before we were due to fly out all flights were cancelled indefinitely (COVID-19)
It was now my job to try to salvage what we could. Our fallback plan was to conduct training sessions via Teams. This was going well until COVID-19 got in our way again. The overseas offices were closed by the government (soon after our own offices would close).
Our team all had the ability to work from home however the offshore colleagues did not.
We started to perform analysis on what it would take our end to get all of the required colleagues trained and working from home. It readily became apparent that the initial costs of deploying such a solution would be higher than the expected benefits over the coming years.
As a result I proposed to senior management that we terminate the project as it no longer made commercial sense. My proposal was accepted and the project was halted and the colleagues were assigned to other projects.
All was not lost however as we were able to repurpose the training materials to be used for our onshore colleagues which saw a reduction in the time spent in attaining competency.“
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