How to decrease chances of a project failure?

There is nothing more rewarding for a project manager than a successful completion of a project.  There are many factors that contribute to such an outcome. Successful projects need to be well planed, managed and executed and each of those phases has to be carefully prepared, implemented, and performed. If everything goes according to your plans, great… mission accomplished, but what if things turn up side down?

As a project manager you may encounter situations when some of the projects you were involved or led did not return the outcome you had expected. Sometimes, although you think that every aspect of the project has been thoroughly analyzed and prepared, the overall project outcome is a failure.  You start to think where the mistake has happened? What was missing or omitted?



One of the most common reasons for the project failure is actually inexperienced project manager(s).  In many situations, managers work under stress. Do they know how to handle it? Can they well understand and make right financial decisions? Can they run appropriate negotiations, solve unexpected issues, communicate required information to appropriate project group? Although it may sound ease, some especially young projects managers, may have problems with stress management and poorly perform under such situation. In critical moments, they may loose the objectivity and start to use false assumptions or just start to force things through.

Another common reason for a project failure may be lack of resources. To successfully complete any project the appropriate resources such as personnel, equipment, tools, etc. need to be provided.  Project resources are key to achieve the project’s goal. What is going to happen when we promise the project delivery on certain time with limited or inadequate (skillset) resources? How that goal can be achieved? Without required resources, the project delivery will be delayed, poorly completed, or completely fail. Often, to save money on the project, managers try to deliver the product on the minimum resources involved. In many occasions that saving turn out to bring more expense at the end than expected.

Poorly defined requirements are very well known reason for the project failure too. It is very important to clearly document what are customer’s expects and needs. It is crucial for any project to make sure that both sides of the contract understand the requirements. Additionally we need to make sure that those requirements are agreed to and signed off by the client before the project implementation phase. What would happen, if there were a situation in which the customer expects something different than what we believe they want?  What would happen if we started to implement the project, which was never approved and consigned by our customer?

Have you ever experienced a project failure? What was the cause of it? If not, what in your opinion are other reasons for the project failure?





10 thoughts on “How to decrease chances of a project failure?

  1. The most recent project I saw fail was due to lack of attention and understanding from the project manager. I was recently assigned to a cross functional initiative project that brought together people from various departments to knowledge share about mobile advertising. Unfortunately, the assigned project manager had tunnel vision and was only willing to look at the overall goals from their department’s perspective. The lack of an open mind kept the group from being beneficial to anyone except those within the project manager’s department, which inevitably led to a lack of interest from all other attendees and the eventual end of the project.

  2. I have seen a few project failures at my work and they have mainly been contributed to resource constraints and misunderstanding customer needs and expecations. There have been a few projects when a miscalculation on a bill of material or low inventory supply lead to major delays in the project. While resources are a critical part of a project’s success, I think meeting customer expectations is just as is important.

    For one project, our department built a new ticketing system for all other departments to utilize. However, there was no proper buy in, training, or requirements assessments on behalf of the other departments. The system was launched without much input or feedback from the people that would be using the system and the launch day caused a great deal of havoc across many departments.

  3. Prior to me taking on a more project managerial role, I was involved in projects that ultimately failed. One of the big reasons I saw a project fail was because of unrealistic expectations. The project schedule was created in a vacuum, where they didn’t ask for input from employees as to whether the dates were realistic and attainable.

    Also, I have seen projects fail because of excessive amounts of scope creep. After a project was defined and execution began, the sponsor saw additional “cool” stuff he wanted to see in the functionality, and wanted it to be incorporated into the execution of the project within the same dates. However, the dates were never changed, and ultimately caused the project to fail.

  4. Very good reasons as to why projects fail. I would like to suggest an additional reason that focuses specifically on the project manager and that is leadership. Leadership is related to the poorly defined requirements reason but takes it even further. Any project manager needs to motivate, inspire and engage those that he/she is working with. The project manager needs to lead by example, make decisions with clear answers and exhibit confidence. The manager needs to unite the team, keep them involved and go through the project development process in a way so as to get the maximum input from the project team. To me, all of these elements fall under this leadership heading and directly cause projects to fail.

    I have been involved in projects where the manager exhibited absolutely no leadership qualities and in turn the team was unmotivated before the project even took off. What was even worse was the manager was totally unaware and proceeded forward without having any real understanding as to what the status of the team was. Simply put, the manager was too focused on the project details and totally ignored the team. Without the team being on board the project cannot succeed.

  5. I am currently involved in a project where the project lead is inefficient. Her lack of drive along with limited knowledge on the subject is causing the project to get delayed. Also, her project members keep changing every month and she does not have a set team to work on the project. Your first point about having a manager who is inexperienced and inefficient is causing this project to be a big failure. Your second point about resources also holds true in this case. But it is not the lack of resources, but changing resources that is causing this project to be a failure.

    The one other reason for project failure is lack of follow-up. The project I was mentioning earlier has been going on for more than a year and the managers did not start to follow-up with the lead until a few months ago. Had they requested for monthly status reports, they would have noticed that the project is not progressing and would have stopped funding right away. This would have saved the company tens of thousands of dollars.

  6. Projects fail all the time due to any number of reasons. However, I wonder what failure means. If a project delivers great quality below the cost estimate but took longer than expected, is it considered a failure? We can have countless examples like this. I think it’s important to have your pre-determined metrics early in the define work of the project. This gives the team a common goal and helps to keep focus. I agree the project manager has a lot of influence over the team and they don’t have to be the subject matter expert. They need to know how to empower the team, keep everyone focused and moving forward in a collaborative effort. Situations will never be perfect and resources roll on and off projects. It’s a matter of being flexible and prepared for any situation. Very successful projects are prepared for more issues than anyone will ever know.

  7. I had worked in some of government project such as a installing a new Levy System (which Managing training Levy in privet sector ) , and that project should be finish before 6 months , put still the project straggle , one reason for failure to finish it in designate time is Project leader ,he has no idea about the project and not let the one know to explained his idea , an when it come to blame he blame other , other reason is that project leader think in narrow vision .

  8. It is a very useful article as there are many reasons for projects failure: lack of communication among the different parties, emails are the common way to communicate so information will be archived with different parties, if a new person join the project team he will struggle to get clarity on the history, so annual report should be generated and archived in a common file related to this project
    As mentioned visibility on the scope, it should be cleared from the beginning to avoid any troubles later on.

  9. I completely agree with the reasons that you have written about. Sometimes its only one of those reasons that cause the failure and other times its a mixture of all. In addition one of the reasons for the failure of a project is the project manager not knowing when to push forward and when to step back and change the plan if there was a set back. That ties into how experienced a project manager is.

  10. thank you for your article, i agree with you, but i would like to also add one more thing that i believe is one of the main causes of a project failure, it is communication.

    the more communications get the inexperienced project manager to pick up his experience, for example when dealing with different kind of people you need to communicate with them a lot to get better relationship with them and you will get some of there experience by just communicating with them.

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