Top Ten Reasons Why Projects Fail

Top Ten Reasons Why Projects Fail

Guest post by Dr. Ian Clarkson

Why do projects fail? Problems can manifest from anywhere on a project but there are several elements of a project that if managed poorly could mean that the project may fail to deliver:

Poor sponsorship

If the people at the top are not supportive this will severely hamper or even stop the project delivering. Clear job descriptions from an executive can often reduce the chances of this happening.

Unclear requirements

If phrases such as “easy to use”, “state of the art” or “best of breed” have sneaked their way into the requirements, they will be virtually impossible to prove. Project managers should view ambiguity as their worst enemy, and strive for clarity.

Unrealistic timescales or budgets

Too often the customer/sponsor asks for the impossible, but a project will take as long as it will take. As Henry Ford said – better, faster, cheaper, pick one!

Scope creep

This describes the phenomenon where changes mount up to slowly push the product away from its original design. Clear documentation and a robust change control mechanism are vital if this is to be avoided.

Poor risk management

If you analyse the situation before proceeding you may be able to identify potential problems and work around them before they even happen.

Poor processes/documentation

If you don’t follow processes and document events and requirements properly, do not be surprised if things do not happen the way you want them to.

Poor estimating

Good project managers don’t guess! Use historical information, formulae, and lots of questions to make sure that your estimating is not GUESStimating.

Poor communication/stakeholder engagement

People tend to fear what they don’t know, so it is always the case that a bit of communication about what is going to happen will go a long way. Communication with stakeholders is vital if the project is to capture their imagination, and keep it.

Poor business case

A good business case will clearly demonstrate the business benefit of delivering a project and so will allow the project team to sell the project to the business, and constantly monitor whether the project continues to remain a good idea during the project.

Inadequate/incorrectly skilled resources

Having people who are ill-prepared to complete a task can be worse than not having anyone. To give yourself the best chance of getting the resources, be clear about what you need and when you need it.

Dr Ian Clarkson is Head of Project and Programme Management Product Development a QA -leading providers of Prince2 courses. His role provides business direction and ownership of QA’s portfolio, programme, project and risk management curriculum. Ian is an experienced lecturer, author, speaker and consultant, having delivered programmes and projects in all industry sectors.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

Poor communication and poor stakeholder management deserves to be two separate categories. Poor communication is the number one reason projects fail with poor project team leadership being a close second.

Andy Gravatt

I propose that the number one reason projects fail is that we keep assigning project managers that don’t know much about project management (this might be cheating a bit since all of the 10 things on this list could be fixed by a good project manager). This has a lot of similarities to Bill’s “poor project team leadership”. Why do we consistently believe that good management is something anyone can do without any training? One day, someone walks in a room and dubs the best technical person the role of manager and then we wonder why the project doesn’t work out well.

Chris Stinson

Often, projects happen without due diligence.
The method of solution is picked before the problem is analysed or discovered.

Mark Hammer

Frequently neglected is the continuity in leadership. Managers tend to be a career-conscious lot, and all too often keep their eyes peeled for promotions elsewhere. There are few things as project-killing as having a “new guy in charge” mid-way through, with different priorities, and much less of the tacit knowledge about many of the factors Clarkson lists.

Peter G. Tuttle

Great posting. This about sums up why projects…let’s impose the word “contracts” as well…fail. I agree with Bill’s earlier comment about poor communications. Other problems with a project or contract only get worse with lack of meaningful and timely communications. Silence does not mean that everything is rosy.

Niquette Kelcher

On this note, here’s a good book for you: If We Can Put a Man on the Moon…Getting Big Things Done in Government. Enjoyable read with lots of history lessons on how government initiatives have failed and succeeded. Get an excerpt here (in the right sidebar).