3 Most Common Reasons for Project Failure

3 Most Common Reasons for Project Failure

Most organizations have experienced projects that did not end on time, were over budget, or changed in scope over time. There are many pitfalls that can sink projects. Here we will focus on three basic reasons why projects fail. 

1. Project Objectives:

Getting your project objectives clear is the single most important task at the start of any project. What are we setting out to achieve?

Everybody on the project team and the wider stakeholders need to be in agreement with clear (SMART) project objectives. Relating these to the business case – or “why” the project is required is equally important.

Unclear, conflicting, and un-agreed objectives are a root cause for project failure before it even starts. That said, once it is apparent that the project objectives are not clear or agreed by all – stop the project!

2. Project Communications

The single most important job for the project manager is to plan communication into the project. Projects fail because of miscommunication, lack of communication (but never too much communication??).

How can you increase your communication? Firstly, plan it into the project with communication matrices of: What to communicate and who to, and When to communicate and who to.

Encourage collaboration (and communication) between the team and the project stakeholders. Promote an open culture, arrange an open-plan office, get the project team co-located, arrange social events etc. to get the project team talking.

With national and international projects spend some time arranging the technology (email lists, SharePoint systems, mobile phone numbers, on-line groups and workspaces) and check that all project team members have the required access and are comfortable with using the technology.

3. Project Tracking

So you now have clear project objectives, a project plan, and good communication. What could possibly go wrong now? Well, not monitoring progress against the plan will cause a failure. Many times I’ve seen detailed planning sessions create great overall project plans, which then never see the light of day again, or are constantly changed.

A project plan is like the map of the journey. You should not put it down until you can see that your destination in sight.

You only know that the project is changing if you are closely monitoring against the plan, and finding deviations. Projects need to be tracked in terms of time, cost and quailty (as well as change, risk, and resources) in order to succeed.

Deviating from the project plan requires the project to be re-planned, and you can only do this if you are tracking project progress correctly.

So there are my main three reasons for project failure. 

Three main reasons for project failure. Objectives. Communication. Tracking. Are your project objectives clear? Is communication on your project all it could be? Are you tracking your project closely enough?


This is an edited version of a blog published Andrew Bell from www.ableism.com. Andrew is an academic adviser to the Institute of Project Management


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