There can be an endless list of direct or indirect reasons why a person may want to bring a project to failure; from personal motivation to plots more intricate than a James Bond movie or a Dan Brown book. Whatever that motivation is, placing a bad Project Manager in charge or assigning an incompetent team to handle the situation must be the first action considered. However, fortuitous events may still occur that lead to the project being successful. Also, if that effort is apparent, you or your allies will be replaced sooner or later for the good of the project. If the intention of the reader is to constantly bring one or more projects to failure; I make available here a series of steps with which to bring the possibility of failure close to 100%; even with a team committed to making sure everything goes well and focused on solving every issue that arises. That said, we have to be subtle and make smart moves in the “Art of leading a project to a failure”.

These are some topics on which you may need to focus all the time:

1.Always say yes to the client

This is the starting point to make all this failure possible. It’s imperative that the trust of the client is gained before moving forward. This is how you will cover your steps, get an alibi and become the wolf disguised as a lamb. You don’t want anyone to figure out who the mastermind is, right? You must scramble the crime scene enough that the clues lead to casualty or others.

There will be many opportunities to gain the trust of the client during the project, but the best and fastest way to do it is to accept all the terms in the first contract draft. By aligning yourself with their time constraints, budget, and above all, accepting the project as requested you will have the client on your side. Don’t make any useful observations or take any unnecessary risks.

However, this won’t be easy all the time. There will be clients who will hesitate and ask you difficult questions like "Our time is short, is it really possible?" to which a confident answer from your part such as "We have the best team and we will use it as required" will help to reinforce the bond of confidence. From time to time, you will have to fulfill some of the promises you have made, so as to keep up the illusion of confidence or at least the benefit of the doubt. Promise everything that comes to your mind and say yes to every request. You should always sound confident in your words; that’s the key.

Remember: Gaining trust is the first step to destroying that trust. Do it little by little sprinkling ingredients like uncertainty and despair. The following points will guide you on important issues.

2. Avoid clear communication

Communication (and the withholding of the same) is the most powerful and versatile weapon in your arsenal. You can use it to attack or defend yourself and you can even avoid using it (as part of a strategy). But you have to use it carefully, since you have to play on two fronts and different roles on each side.

  • With the Client
    The less communication and clarity you give the customer, the better. Avoid daily updates and keep them on the sidelines of progress, letting them know the status only when they ask. Preferably wait before answering or say that you will review the topic in a moment and leave the conversation until the next day or until they ask again.
    Remember the topic of trust? Keep earning the client’s trust by giving all the good news right away, even when it's small successes. On the other hand, avoid at all costs giving them bad news. You don't want them to know that something is wrong and find out that you are up to something or that there are things that can be addressed quickly to avoid delays.
  • With your team
    Your internal team is the least important aspect of the project. They might as well be robots. They’re machines that you use to keep the project running (as long as it suits your evil goals). Your team will never have the right answer. They have no visibility of the whole picture. They are in front of the computer just looking at a small piece of the puzzle. You have direct access to the client. You are the project manager! You make the hard decisions! If they forget their role, don’t hesitate to strongly argue with your team to make this point clear. Your project cannot withstand anarchy. If this continues, it will be the perfect time to change your team up and add a delay.

3. Change your team constantly

If the project is long enough, this is a good opportunity to drop some team members and bring in new people. You can always justify this by saying that the project is doing badly or that a person with a different profile is needed. Rotating the members of your team always adds a pinch of delicious uncertainty to the project and (most importantly) justifiable delays. If possible, do this with all roles(yourself if necessary) but with due caution.

4. Avoid writing any documentation

This adds absolutely no value to your work! At least this is what you have to convince the client and your own team of. Project speed must be the goal and spending time documenting anything is a waste of time. The tests, use cases and solutions will be done on the fly, because we are men of action!

Avoiding any documentation is intended to hide the project plans from the client and the team, so that you can have more flexibility to deliver partialities without actually finishing the entire project. Keep in mind there must be no visibility of when it will finish.

5. Deliver on time, but leave everything in the air

That is, deliver every non-important task on time. This will help you maintain trust (as we’ve seen, very important) but won’t discredit you enough to be suspicious. Rush through the POC(Proof Of Concept) so that people know that your team can get the work done, but do not go beyond that. Keep the project functional, but not impressive. Doing this ensures that the scope keeps growing. Also, propose reworking entire sections of the project for no reason, and deliver those reworks on time! Can you smell the near failure? It’s intoxicating!

6. Pay no attention to details

Directly related to the timeframe, mediocre work with obvious bugs is one of the main causes of delicious dissatisfaction from a client (especially if the amount of money invested in the project is thick).

If you have been able to get to the point of making a final delivery without being discovered throughout the project, you probably have overcome many obstacles, but don’t lose your concentration. This is the last lap.

QA should be skipped entirely if possible. If not, find the people with the least knowledge of the project available. Additionally, each delivery must be rushed so that no one has the opportunity to make even a minimal prior review. Don't skimp on this point or the above won't make sense. If necessary, take care of the QA yourself but do not use all the test cases. Don’t stray from the happy path so that you can say that you did something.

If you followed all the previous steps correctly, at this point the client must have abandoned the project or will do so soon. Not many clients have infinite patience when they are watching their money flow out of their pockets. At this point, your team must be tremendously unmotivated and may have even gone looking for another project to jump on. Best case scenario, they’re having an among us-style showdown to find the culprit. But the most important part is, if you cleared your path, you will have all the excuses necessary to say that the scope grew out of control,  and that your team did not work and instead spent the whole time arguing endless details.

Congratulations, you have failed exceptionally at a project! Very well done my dear pupil! And don't worry if this one was not your best, there will be more projects in your future, which means another opportunity to crash it to the ground and enjoy watching Rome catch fire.

Follow these exact steps on the following projects and practice these skills. You may become an expert in the art of failing projects; one day you can even think of having a position in politics!