Why Do Projects Fail? Learning How to Avoid Project Failure

05 June, 2012

A project is considered a failure when it has not delivered what was required, in line with expectations. Therefore, in order to succeed, a project must deliver to cost, to quality, and on time; and it must deliver the benefits presented in the business case.
From lessons learned, a major cause of failure occurs when an organisation maintains the old project management process and methods to manage modern-day projects.

Let’s consider the reasons why projects might fail.

1. Lack of Project Strategy: Without an overall plan, many of the projects submitted and approved may provide only marginal benefits.

2. Project goals are not understood or agreed on: There is sometimes a lack of understanding and agreements about the goals of the project. Business, technical and organisational objectives might overlap and conflict.

3. Small projects are not allowed to be projects: Because of the fear of the administrative overhead and the desire for results, management allows small projects to exist without the controls and direction associated with project management. As the scope of the project grows, the stage is set for collapse because no organised structure is in place. This occurs in business units that attempt to carry out projects informally.

4. Projects are not closely linked to the business processes: Projects are carried out with the attention on the technical side of the puzzle. The business process side is too often ignored.

5. Benefits are not as they seem: The benefits cited in the project are often estimated based on the systems side without any business process change. Thus, often very few actual benefits are achieved.

6. The scope of the project is not defined: The scope of the project is not well defined until substantial; work has been done. Additional requirements that surface then enlarge the scope.

7. Projects are too rigid in either rejecting or accepting new technology during the project: In some projects, there is an over willingness to adopt a new tool – particularly if the project is in trouble. Adopting a tool then can just mask the underlying problems. In other projects, there is rigidity to anything new or improved. In either case, the project is affected adversely.

8. There is a lack of review of project ideas and plans: No through and formal approach to reviewing a project idea or plan may exist. Often the project is only reviewed by itself in a vacuum.

9. Project Manager spends too much time in administration: The project manager is assumed to be carrying out the administrative tasks identified earlier. In many organisations this is assumed to be sufficient, the project manager may lose touch with the actually work on the project and fail to build rapport with the team.

10. Few or no lessons are learned: With no formal or organised process to learn from the projects and a lack of incentives and management support, it is not surprising that few devote any time to gathering, organising or disseminating lessons learned.


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