Why do projects fail?

… and how easy is project recovery?

Project failure facts and figures are in the eye of the beholder unless the statistics are granulated into a level that explains the exact science behind the numbers. Failure percentages vary from 40 to 80 percent and are, logically and primarily, based on qualitative information gathered through interviews.

This percent of failed projects, whether it be 40 or 80, is a tragedy and is an indication that the project management profession as a whole has a lot of work to do in the times to come! But which are the main reasons why projects fail?

Through studies of three similar analyses conducted within the same period, the five main generic reasons why projects fail are summarized below:

  • Long or unrealistic time scales – often lead to systems being delivered for products or services that are no longer in use by the organization
  • Poor or no requirements – leads developers to build what they believe is needed, without having the required knowledge about the business
  • Lack of resources – the same people who run functional areas are the ones essential for the success of the project
  • Lack of user involvement – leads to uncommitted users and managers
  • Lack of top management support – leads to lack of direction

These causes for failure are relatively trivial, so why is the percentage of failure so high? The answer is quite simply because many companies lack the core competence needed in order to manage successful projects; a project management methodology, an experienced project / program manager, competent team leaders with relevant experience, and a direction given by top management.

If and when the above core competencies are in place and the project still fails, how do you recover? The essence of turning around a troubled project is, first and foremost, for the project manager to be responsible and influential enough to take action, thus communication is key. Secondly, analyze whether the project needs to be redefined in terms of scope or financials. Thirdly, add or remove resources as needed in order to get the project on its feet again. If the project is still in dire need of assistance after implementing these changes consider hiring outside help to manage the recovery or terminate the project.

2 kommentarer på “Why do projects fail?
  1. Rune Larsen sier:

    Hi Anja.
    In my opinion Projects fail because project managers report and take credit for “time spent” as a measurement of project progress. In addition customers and projects steering committees accepts “time spent” as a measurement of project progress. If you take credit for features being validated as they are actually used by the end user, you will automatically force your project into a state where you need to deliver smaller increments and deal with the 5 reasons you state as problems early in the process. If you do, you don´t need to worry about project recovery at all.

  2. Anja Jackson sier:

    Hei Rune.

    Dette er nok veldig symptomatisk i forhold til større konsulenthus der prosjektledere gjør nettopp det du beskriver i kommentaren din – fører timer for å synliggjøre at «noe blir gjort» og dette er akseptert av både styringsgrupper og kunden selv. Jeg er veldig pro en «lean» prosjektstruktur der man leverer gevinst oftere og i mindre deler, både fordi det gagner kunden, men også fordi man har faktiske leveranser å vise til i prosjektet og ikke bare «tom» tid. Kommentaren din er nok litt altomfattende, men jeg er enig i prinsippene.