Why Project fail

October 7, 2009

The projects fail when they do not meet the following criteria for success:

  • It is delivered on time.
  • It is on or under budget.
  • The system works as required.

Only a few projects achieve all three. Many more are delivered which fail on one or more of these criteria, and a substantial number are cancelled having failed badly.

So what are the key factors for success? Organisations and individuals have studied a number of projects that have both succeeded and failed and some common factors emerge. A key finding is that there is no one overriding factor that causes project failure. A number of factors are involved in any particular project failure, some of which interact with each other. Here are some of the most important reasons for failure.

1. Lack of User Involvement

Lack of user involvement has proved fatal for many projects. Without user involvement nobody in the business feels committed to a system, and can even be hostile to it. If a project is to be a success senior management and users need to be involved from the start, and continuously throughout the development. This requires time and effort, and when the people in a business are already stretched, finding time for a new project is not high on their priorities. Therefore senior management need to continuously support the project to make it clear to staff it is a priority.

2. Long or Unrealistic Time Scales

Long timescales for a project have led to systems being delivered for products and services no longer in use by an organisation. The key recommendation is that project timescales should be short, which means that larger systems should be split into separate projects. There are always problems with this approach, but the benefits of doing so are considerable.

Many managers are well aware of the need for fast delivery, leading to the other problem of unrealistic timescales. These are set without considering the volume of work that needs to be done to ensure delivery. As a result these systems are either delivered late or only have a fraction of the facilities that were asked for. The recommendation here is to review all project plans to see if they are realistic, and to challenge the participants to express any reservations they may have with it.

3. Poor or No Requirements

Many projects have high level, vague, and generally unhelpful requirements. This has led to cases where the developers, having no input from the users, build what they believe is needed, without having any real knowledge of the business. Inevitably when the system is delivered business users say it does not do what they need it to. This is closely linked to lack of user involvement, but goes beyond it. Users must know what it is they want, and be able to specify it precisely. As non-IT specialists this means normally they need skills training.


4. Scope Creep

Scope is the overall view of what a system will deliver. Scope creep is the insidious growth in the scale of a system during the life of a project. As an example for a system which will hold customer records, it is then decided it will also deal with customer bills, then these bills will be provided on the Internet, and so on and so forth. All the functionality will have to be delivered at one time, therefore affecting time scales, and all will have to have detailed requirements. This is a management issue closely related to change control. Management must be realistic about what is it they want and when, and stick to it.

5. No Change Control System

Despite everything businesses change, and change is happening at a faster rate then ever before. So it is not realistic to expect no change in requirements while a system is being built. However uncontrolled changes play havoc with a system under development and have caused many project failures.

This emphasises the advantages of shorter timescales and a phased approach to building systems, so that change has less chance to affect development. Nonetheless change must be managed like any other factor of business. The business must evaluate the effects of any changed requirements on the timescale, cost and risk of project. Change Management and its sister discipline of Configuration Management are skills that can be taught.

6.Poor Testing

The developers will do a great deal of testing during development, but eventually the users must run acceptance tests to see if the system meets the business requirements. However acceptance testing often fails to catch many faults before a system goes live because:

  • Poor requirements which cannot be tested
  • Poorly, or non planned tests meaning that the system is not methodically checked
  • Inadequately trained users who do not know what the purpose of testing is
  • Inadequate time to perform tests as the project is late

Users, in order to build their confidence with a system, and to utilise their experience of the business, should do the acceptance testing. To do so they need good testable requirements, well designed and planned tests, be adequately trained, and have sufficient time to achieve the testing objectives.


These six factors are not the only ones that affect the success or failure of a project, but in many studies and reports they appear near, or at the top of the list. They are all interlinked, but as can be seen they are not technical issues, but management and training ones. This supports the idea that IT projects should be treated as business projects.




Project management: Why projects fail

As soloists, our work is often project-based. Have you ever wondered why some projects go smoothly and others seem plagued with problems? Here are five reasons why projects can fail and how with good project management these problems can be avoided.

1. Lack of stakeholder buy-in

There are two types of stakeholder buy-in. Firstly commitment from a top-level executive authorised to make decisions and spend money. By a top-level executive I mean one person – I have made it a rule to avoid projects that are directly accountable to a committee.

Secondly, you need support from all project participants. Sometimes, project managers make the mistake of pandering to the needs of their employer at the expense of relationships with other stakeholders, or the ‘little people’ and this can have a negative impact on teamwork and cooperation.

2. Hidden agendas can compromise progress

This is a particularly difficult problem to identify and overcome. We all have unexpressed thoughts and concerns. We all have egos to protect. A good project manager with a high level of emotional intelligence will use their intuition to identify any unsaid needs and draw out any hidden agendas without alienating or threatening anyone.

Good project management also involves actively encouraging open dialogue with all stakeholders in the project, including arranging one-on-one time with those individuals who are uncomfortable voicing their opinions publicly.

A good project manager needs to be clear about their intentions. I once had a project manager who was primarily there to secure her position with the client. The project only succeeded because we ended up managing her and building a barrier to protect ourselves from her interference.

3. Unmanaged expectations

Every stakeholder in a project will have their own expectations. If not managed carefully, this can lead to chaos, confusion and frustration all round.

It pays to establish as much clarity up-front as you can by clearly defining the project parameters such as aims, inputs, outcomes, influence, boundaries, roles and responsibilities. Every time a change occurs, it needs to be evaluated against these parameters. A change could be as simple as a stakeholder changing their mind about something.

Role confusion is a classic problem. Rather than assuming everyone has the same expectations of their roles and the roles of others, spell it out. Kick the project off by getting everyone to set down their expectations and priorities on paper. You’d be surprised how much these vary – the finance exec may well put more priority on quality over price.

4. Ineffective communication

Email is probably the most prevalent form of project communication. A great strategy I have learnt is to discuss only one subject per email and to use a succinct subject line. This helps the recipient to quickly determine an email’s relevance and urgency. It also makes it easy to work with each email as a clear to-do task. This approach is essential to effectively leverage project management tools like Basecamp.

Good documentation is also important, but it must be accessible and relevant. Needlessly complex documentation or the production of documentation for its own sake just gets in the way.

In the throes of telling people what they need to do, it is easy to forgo the respect you can afford someone by genuinely listening to them. All too often, we listen so as to compose our response. The ability to just listen is a rare skill.

5. Insufficient planning

There is a great temptation to not think too much and just dive into the doing. Looking productive and busy is good. The problem is, by foregoing careful planning, you often end up being busy for longer than you need to. An extra hour of planning could save you weeks of fire-fighting.

Not allowing sufficiently for contingencies is a common problem. This means making allowances for unexpected variances within the project, such as delays in approvals or resource shortages. If you think you can deliver by January, promise it for February.

You also need to plan for contingencies across projects. Build in slack to allow yourself to do the admin stuff, to chase future projects and to just rest. It can be difficult to get a sense of how long a project could take. Be careful about being too optimistic with timelines!

By following these project management tips you will enhance your project’s chance of success. Do you have any other project management tips or pitfalls to add to this list?

Reasons Why Projects Fail

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By Tom Carlos PMP

In a perfect world every project would be “on time and within budget.” But reality (especially the proven statistics) tells a very different story. It’s not uncommon for projects to fail. Even if the budget and schedule are met, one must ask “did the project deliver the results and quality we expected?” True project success must be evaluated on all three components. Otherwise, a project could be considered a “failure.”

Have you ever seen a situation where projects begin to show signs of disorganisation, appear out of control, and have a sense of doom and failure? Have you witnessed settings where everyone works in a silo and no one seems to know what the other team member is doing? What about team members who live by the creed “I’ll do my part (as I see fit) and after that, it’s their problem.” Even worse is when team members resort to finger-pointing. Situations similar to these scenarios point to a sign that reads “danger.” And if you read the fine print under the word “danger” it reads, “your project needs to be brought under control or else it could fail.”

When projects begin to show signs of stress and failure, everyone looks to the project manager for answers. It may seem unfair that the burden of doom falls upon a single individual. But this is the reason why you chose to manage projects for a living! You’ve been trained to recognise and deal with these types of situations.

There are many reasons why projects (both simple and complex) fail; the number of reasons can be infinite. However, if we apply the 80/20 rule the most common reasons for failure can be found in the following list:

Poorly managed Undefined objectives and goals Lack of management commitment
Lack of a solid project plan Lack of user input Lack of organisational support
Centralised proactive management initiatives to combat project risk Enterprise management of budget resources Provides universal templates and documentation
Poorly defined roles and responsibilities Inadequate or vague requirements Stakeholder conflict
Team weaknesses Unrealistic timeframes and tasks Competing priorities
Poor communication Insufficient resources (funding and personnel) Business politics
Overruns of schedule and cost Estimates for cost and schedule are erroneous Lack of prioritisation and project portfolio management
Scope creep No change control process Meeting end user expectations
Ignoring project warning signs Inadequate testing processes Bad decisions

Even with the best of intentions or solid plans, project can go awry if they are not managed properly. All too often, mishaps can occur (and usually do). This is when the project manager must recognise a warning sign and take action. If you understand the difference between symptoms and problems and can spot warning signs of project failure, your training will help you take steps to right the ship before it keels over. Yes, it’s the project manager’s responsibility to correct the listing no one else. In addition to applying the processes and principles taught in project management class, you can also use your personal work skills of communication, management, leadership, conflict resolution, and diplomacy to take corrective action.

During the course of managing a project, the project manager must monitor activities (and distractions) from many sources and directions. Complacency can easily set in. When this happens, the process of “monitoring” breaks down. This is why the project manager must remain in control of a project and be aware of any activity which presents a risk of project failure. Yes, this is why “you are paid the big bucks

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