Why Do So Many Projects Still Fail?

Paul Naybour

Project management has been refined and improved immeasurably in the past 2 decades: methodologies and best practices are better defined and documented than ever and it has been shown that organisations which invest in training staff in a recognised methodology deliver more successful projects, more consistently. So it’s not surprising that many organisations continue to invest in training so their employees learn from the accumulated knowledge of those who went before.

But if these improvements have been made and have been shown to result in better projects why then do many projects still fail? We know what tends to go wrong, we know how to try and plan for problems so we can mitigate their impact so what is causing projects to still fail in large numbers?

Could it be that we know the rules for successful project management but simply don’t (or can’t) follow them?

If that could be the problem you face in your organisation here’s a reminder of the most common causes of project failure – just double-check that your project is not heading down the road to one of these avoidable issues.


Poor Communication

No surprise here that poor communication can knock even the best planned projects off track. And by communication I don’t just mean formal project documentation but also meetings of every description, emails, online chats, phone calls and casual chats by the coffee machine. Remember communication is give and take so don’t forget to listen to what is being communicated to you as well as disseminating information to others. Make sure every piece of information is communicated clearly and unambiguously – never expect others to “read between the lines”.


Imposed Deadlines

How often have you had to initiate a project with the final, immoveable, deadline already fixed? Sound familiar? – me too. Often, I’m glad to say, those projects have, in fact, been delivered successfully but there have been other times when the deadline was completely unrealistic right from the start but senior management failed to listen or maybe I failed to communicate well enough what the issues were. Either way certain projects are doomed from the start and yet still they proceed – that’s just a waste of valuable time and resources.


Unrealistic Expectations

Add to an impossible deadline a set of unrealistic expectations and requirements and the chances of the project being a failure increase just a little bit more. Sure we can tweak a few bits here and there, throw some more money and resources at it and probably end up with something to deliver come the deadline, but is it really what anyone wanted? Was it satisfying to work on for the team and project manager? Did it motivate the team to give their all on the next project?

Unfortunately there is a knock-on effect on future projects for every one that fails and for which we fail to learn from past mistakes. So next time you can see one of these 3 common causes of project failure rear it’s ugly head do whatever you have in your power to fix the problem right away.

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