Project Failure

Lots of projects fail, but why?  There are many of reasons why projects should not fail…

  • There is an abundance of approaches to PPM out there developed by smart, experienced people: PMBOK; Prince2; MSP; APMP; DSDM Atern to name but a few.
  • We have different flavours of project management to choose from notably waterfall and agile.
  • Millions of pounds must be spent every year worldwide on Project Management training.
  • All organisations run projects, and humans have been doing project management for thousands of years – building a pyramid is a project, right?
  • Effective change management resource is widely recognised as a valuable commodity, which is why organisations hire project, programme and portfolio managers, and why some even go to the trouble of establishing a PMO.
  • In my experience project and programme managers are often highly skilled and driven people, completely dedicated to delivering project objectives. 


So why with all of this stuff is project failure still so high?

  1. Project management is people management – Projects only succeed when the people on the project are on board and working as a cohesive team.  I  propose that the most common root cause of project failure is some kind of interpersonal issue – big egos; projects suddenly falling off key individuals’ radars because something new and more exciting has come along; personality clashes; failure by all parties to have a consensus on overall project objectives and what done looks like.
  2. Approaches I’m an agile project management convert.  I believe that traditional waterfall approaches lead to an increased likelihood of project failure, particularly in product development work (especially software!).
  3. Failure to implement the right kind of project and programme management framework at the correct level of maturity for the host organisation.  You can’t just transplant an approach from one organisation to another.  Just because the latest project management approach works at, doesn’t mean that it will be fine for (apologies if these are real company names – they are intended to be arbitrary!).
  4. When implementing a new framework you have to take into account the type of business (a waterfall based framework *probably is best* in a construction firm, agile for a software house) and the maturity
    level.  Trying to implement a level 5 maturity framework in an organisation that has never employed a project manager will fail irrespective of the type of framework implemented.  The maturity level and type of approach must mesh with the existing organisational culture.
  5. And finally…. Projects fail because projects are difficult.  Things go wrong.  Projects are about delivering unique – sometimes  groundbreaking – products, services, and changes to complex business environments.  You won’t fail if you don’t try to do something new and challenging.  Failure therefore should not be frowned on too heavily.  At least failure demonstrates that your organisation is having a go.  And I’m sure for each failure, people within your organisation are learning valuable lessons that will help ensure success next time around.


Join the #PMChat community this week to further discuss this topic.  Jon will be our special guest on the #PMChat Pre-Game radio show from 11:30-11:45 EST and then from 12:00-1:00pm, the entire community will dive deeper into this topic of Project Failure & Root Cause Analysis during the #PMChat TweetUp


Jon Hyde is Project/Programme Manager with particular strength in public sector initiatives…hence being the founder of  publicsectorpm.comJon’s primary goal is to help organisations achieve positive change using pragmatic approaches to project, programme and portfolio management.  For Jon’s latest rants, software reviews and philosophical ramblings, check out his blog.  If you’d like to chat or think I could help you, please get in touch and/or connect, Cheers!


One comment

  1. One thing I’d add is “lack of vision”. Too many projects either have no vision of where the team will go or someone has a vision but does a poor job of communicating it. A good vision statement gives the team something to unite around.


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