Top 10 Main Causes of Project Failure


Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it, according to Charles R. Swindoll. If you agree and want to step up your game in project management, you can readily find tips, resources, and guidelines. There is an endless selection of resources that show how to lead better, communicate better, or simply be better.

Table of contents

Project Failure and Latest Statistics

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When examining the flip-side, however, we cringe at the notion of failure happening to us. This is one reason why the topic of failure seems to be one of the least discussed topics. Who wants to admit to their failure? Certainly, not to your boss or company head. Yet, failure still happens. It is actually rampant because of ill-defined projects.

According to a 2019 KPMG, AIPM, and IPMA global survey:

  • Only 19 percent of organizations deliver successful projects, at least most of the time
  • Only 30 percent of organizations deliver on time
  • Only 36 percent deliver projects on budget
  • Only 44 percent deliver projects that meet original goal and business intent
  • Only 46 percent of projects delivered receive stakeholder satisfaction

That is why project evaluation at the very start is important. Closely examine all road-blocks, hurdles, hills, detours, potholes, manholes, or even an angry flock of birds. Before starting a project, knowing exactly what lays ahead gives the project manager, team, and client the options where they can avoid or mitigate as much risks as possible.

Read also: Going from Project Completion to Project Delivery – what every project manager should know

Tools for Preventing Project Failure

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Having proactive and effective project management may mean investing in software. Project management tools help managers organize each facet of work, including workload assignment, tasks, progress tracking, team communication, and document collaboration. The KPMG research shows the following statistics on project management tools.

  • 71 percent of organizations use project management software to improve the management and control of projects and programs
  • 39 percent use specialized PM software, 20 percent use in-house solutions, and 12 percent use non-PM commercial software
  • 51 percent of organizations use collaboration tools to support project delivery

The following software are five options that will help you manage your projects, both the big picture and the small details.

Why do Projects Fail? – 10 Common Causes of Project Failure

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We identified 10 common causes of project failure. Knowing about these and getting ahead of them will help you prepare for your next project.

1. Lack of Preparation

You need to have a clear picture of what you’re going to do in advance. Otherwise, you may find yourself upstream without a paddle. You need to know what project success looks like at the beginning—and don’t lose focus of it. If you don’t have a clear focus at the at the earliest stage of the process, you are making things harder on yourself. Have a meeting, even if it is lengthy, with stakeholders to discuss their expectations on cost, time, and product quality. Know how you will execute your tasks in order to meet everyone’s expectations.

2. Inadequate Documentation and Tracking

This is the responsibility of the project manager. Tracking milestones is how you are going to know whether you are meeting expectations. Proper recording and monitoring lets the PM identify where they need more resources to complete a project on time.

3. Poor Leadership

Project leadership is not the sole responsibility of the project manager. Leaders at each management-level have a responsibility to ensure that the project is successful. Management should not micro-manage but provide support to ensure that project managers can follow through with the expectations placed upon them.

4. Failure to Define Parameters and Enforce Them

It is imperative for the project manager to be able to work well with the team. If and when tasks or goals do not meet the standard, there should be ramifications. Rank tasks by priority and assign them to the most proficient individual.

5. Inexperienced Project Managers

Project managers have great responsibility. These professionals need to have matching education and experience. At some point, inexperienced managers handle projects. They may be very capable of managing projects, but the key is to keep them at a level where they can succeed. Anything beyond is a set up for failure. There is nothing wrong with a challenge, as long as it is not beyond their reach. Inexperienced project managers are among the primary causes of project failure 20 percent of the time, according to the PMI’s 2017 Pulse of the Profession report.

Primary causes of project failure

6. Inaccurate Cost Estimates

There may be times when your cost estimates are completely off. As you know, when resources run-out, the project stops. Prevent this by identifying the lack of resources early on. Inaccurate cost estimates is a cause of project failure, according to 28 percent of survey respondents (2017 PMI).

Read also: Best Billing & Invoicing Management Software for 2021

7. Little Communication at Every Level of Management

Whether it is between upper management, with the team, with users, or other stakeholders, inadequate or poor communication is a leading cause of project failure. Everyone should feel free to come forward to express their concern or give suggestions. When everyone is on the same page and the project has transparency, workflow is at an optimum level.

8. Culture or Ethical Misalignment

Company culture should comprise competence, pro-activeness, and professionalism. If not, team members will lack the motivation to do their best. When everyone commits to their role and responsibility, they contribute to the successful completion of the project.

9. Lack of Resource Planning

Inadequate resource forecasting is a leading cause of project failure 23 percent of the time. When resources are not enough, the imbalance between personnel resources and funding will create competing priorities that affect project execution and delivery. At the start, project managers should know how many and for how long they need project resources.

10. Disregarding Project Warning Signs

When a project is on the verge of failing, warning signs will appear. Project managers should take action immediately to save the project. Otherwise, the whole endeavor goes down the drain.

How to Avoid these Common Causes

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These are common reasons for project failure. Adequate employee training, project management software, and management transparency leads to project success. Finding the right project management software is one of the easiest steps to take to keep the project on the right and successful track. These tools are essential in eliminating project failure. Users easily manage tasks like time tracking, cost tracking, and cost estimations. Also, watching out for these ten causes can help increase the chances of project success.

Why Projects Fail

Watch this a lighthearted and funny video on project failure. Maybe you can relate!

Rosanne Lim

I'm a business graduate with 5 years experience as a web writer. I've written everything from in-depth business reports and magazine articles to product descriptions for ecommerce websites.

19 Responses

  1. cephas lokipi says:

    nice work I have learnt a lot thanks .

  2. irene says:

    best explanation

  3. haris saleem says:

    Can you tell me what are the conditions leading to conflicts, confusion and unsatisfied customers, with respect to project management?

  4. Simon Hogan says:

    You forgot about not defining requirements correctly. Probably should be number one on the list

  5. jameson says:

    even when the wrong market was targeted

  6. IVO CESAR says:

    The main reason for project fail is poor risk wide risk management in all project step.

  7. Mohamed Numu Jabbie says:

    Lack of evaluation to identify unintended consequences can lead to protect failure.

  8. Lobsang Tsering says:

    i think that Main failure of project failure are
    1) lack of user interaction with the system
    2) Improper requirement documentation and its volatility nature of customer on requirement.
    3) Inadequate in both human and technology resource.

  9. Tushar says:

    Hi thank you for this post the main failure is Inadequate Documentation and Tracking, and Communication at Every Level of Management because if communication is not correct whether from manager side or team member the project will fail with clear understanding. very useful information I will bookmark for future reference.

  10. Gatjang William says:

    unacceptable advice can contribute to the failure of Project Management

  11. Max says:

    All good, apart from that it is absolutely not clear what a project failure is?? It must be defined first before discussing it, that is the main academic requirement.

  12. That works says:

    A project completed can be termed success but did it come at the expense of half of your subcontractors? I have experienced first hand the panic of a general contractor who was behind and had bidded the project low. Trying to make up losses from subcontractors is only a deception that will bring your company to an end sooner rather than later. Or the executive will leave for “better” opportunities. Embracing deception does not allow you or your people to make better decisions on the next project. Is contracting only about the paperwork or is there more at stake?

  13. sTacy Nolan says:

    Great article on a very interesting topic, thanks fore sharing. I believe not doing project estimation/job costing and time management property could lead to failure very easily. These are the very important part of the project that I do not recommend leaving out.

  14. rasul says:

    Fact indeed

  15. Omollo Innocent says:

    In Uganda, construction projects mostly fail due to the interference of the clients in the construction process. The clients tend to become site supervisors, end up interfering with the concrete mix proportions and steel quantities in a bid to save which has in most cases led to collapse of structures during construction.

  16. Claudio Zalewski says:

    Defining a proper WBS is the first step to a oid failure, being part of correct early preparation. Proper Document control is the other one.
    Very nice article

  17. Aliyu Seid says:

    A very nice explanation, thanks. Would you mind sharing a sample evaluation of a failed project in education program?

  18. Kieron Dowling says:

    Just head for something like Cumulus PMO and run your projects in the cloud. Too many organisations try and run their projects in house

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