Why Do Projects Fail?

Large projects fail at an astonishing rate – more than 50%, by some estimates.

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By George Brzozowski

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16 replies on “Why Do Projects Fail?”

Thank you Dean for posting this. If corporations are not willing to take the steps to ensure that this criteria is met, they have no business even bidding on large projects. What’s worse is when the PM is made the pariah when it was the failure of upper management….PM’s manage what is handed them most of the time. Sometimes it is a well engineered and estimated project but when it isn’t it is hell, especially with no support. Think twice before accepting that responsibility

Crossrail are a highly regarded organisation in the project management profession. With their large-scale projects requiring many interlinking processes to run seamlessly in conjunction with each other, thorough plans must be put in place to minimise any setbacks and ensure that the project is carried out efficiently and correctly.

These transferrable practices are ones that can be applied across all fields of project management.

Ineffective implementation in either of these two areas can trip up any project:

Requirements definition – requirements must be clearly stated, communicated, and ratified while ensuring they meet systemic and organizational expectations for change.

Scope control – effective management of the scope in relation to resource allocation and task execution focused on the requirements.

Given project selection, leadership and vision, effective planning and its byproducts are the foundation of a project. Solid requirements that will affect the intended change, and sticking to the plan will go a long way toward achieving success.

It’s not that we don’t understand this. The issue is really understanding it well enough to recognize that every project is susceptible to these pitfalls, and the best time to prevent them from being an unwanted complication is during the planning stage.

1. Poor communication.
2. Rushing ahead without properly baselining a project 3. Not having an agreed business case.
4. Having no change control procedures in place for changes after design freeze 5. Senior sponsor from hell. 3. Giving in to all client requests.

The list goes on and on

Successful projects balance project scope, cost, and schedule with user needs and project constraints.
Identification of the user needs, project constraints, and resource requirements early in the project life cycle help projects meet their objectives. The greatest risk to project success is scope creep. Well-defined configuration management and change procedures are needed to control scope.

So why do project fail?
From my experience Projects fail for many reasons, from immaturity at commitment and the introduction of unfounded change to uncontrolled design development and having no idea about what ‘success’ looks like.

Any other thoughts and suggestions?

Another good set up items for why projects fail. Though it is talking about IT projects, it is certainly a list that applies to all. Thank you

Remember that these articles refer to ‘project’ in a more comprehensive sense that we deal with for external clients. The stakeholder analysis, benefits analysis and realisation planning, project sponsoring etc has been undertaken within the client organisation before we get deal with the project, and these articles refer to that larger project picture.

I agree. Focusing on success or failure can quickly become a binary choice, and since we can always do better, by definition, every project fails, just like any golfer who fails to complete a round in 18 strokes. While most of the article is good, if routine, advice, it perpetuates the binary myth rather than exhorting project delivery teams to strive for excellence and value driven delivery. If identifying ‘goals’ is simply a checkbox on a score card, it will not be embraced: If we are passionate about creating a better built environment and serving our client’s business – or passion (not their building or their project) we won’t be able to avoid knowing and embracing their vision. At the risk of hyperbole, I don’t want to be a project manager, I want to be a participant in the delivery of a great built environment, through great project managment.

What defines a project’s failure? What are your metrics? I’ve worked many projects over the years and on most, there is some aspect of the project that fails as to one or more of the stated goals. Does that make the entire project a failure? I submit it does not. Some goals are inherently not measurable, or are unrealistic from their inception. Sometimes, external influences outside the influence of the project team cause failure to achieve a goal.

I understand the point of the article, but I just want to point out that we humans quite often focus on failure to the exclusion of all related successes. Negative outcomes always trump positive outcomes for attention, even if they are associated with the same project or event.

I’ve got another question, are project failures considered normal? Long-held beliefs and studies have indicated that a majority of projects end in failure, perhaps suggesting that project failures are becoming an accepted norm. The oft-referenced, now decade-old, Standish Group Chaos Report cited a 31% project failure rate effectively lowering the bar, and along with it any optimism for a successful project effort.

Really useful analysis of project management issues and concerns. Thank you for sharing this article.

This is a great article — I plan to include it in next week’s Business Management Training Program (BMTP) held at Management Services Headquarters in Germantown MD.

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