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It’s the main agenda point in far too many post-mortems: “Why did this project fail?” As the project kicks off, we all want to have a smooth experience and hope for the best outcome. But hope is not enough. Sometimes the project veers off course due to unexpected business decisions. But being knowing what signs to look for to prevent failed projects is the responsibility of the project manager.
Let’s take a deeper look at project failure, and identify some actionable steps you can take to avoid it.
So let’s take a deeper look at the reasons a project may fail, so you can avoid them.
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How Often Do Projects Fail?
Nobody sets out to fail, yet failure still occurs sometimes, often because of ill-defined projects.
Precisely how often projects fail, however, is a point of some debate. Within project management circles, some conventional wisdom posits that projects fail 50% of the time. However, the quantifiable proof behind that number is hard to pin down.
Discussion on The Project Management Institute’s Project Management Central forum places the range between 65% and 75%. Forum participant Mark Warner, Project Manager, AURA elaborates:
“I’ve looked at this in detail before. It’s really hard to get to a bottom line number, but from data from PMI, Standish, Wrike, et al, approximately 75% of projects fail to meet at least one of their stated baseline objectives. This includes failure to meet full scope of deliverables, failure to meet all quality requirements, failure to make schedule, and/or failure to stay within budget. Complicating matters is differences between industries, agile-vs.-waterfall projects, etc. But in general, yes, only one in four projects can be considered 100% successful. (Oh, and then there’s also subjective “failures,” to add to the mix, such as unhappy stakeholders.)”
Smaller projects tend to be much more successful that large complex efforts. Companies without solid project management delivery systems are more likely to miss deadlines and spend more money. Not enough organizations prioritize project management, and some even admit to undervaluing it.
That is why detailed project evaluation at the start is crucial. Closely examine all roadblocks, hurdles, hills, detours, and any proverbial bump in the road before starting a project. Understanding exactly what lies ahead gives the project manager, project team, and client options to avoid or work around as much risk as possible.
Read More: Going from Project Completion to Project Delivery – What Every Project Manager Should Know
What Tools Help Prevent Project Failure?
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% of organizations use project management software to improve the management and control of projects and programs
- 39% use specialized PM software, 20% use in-house solutions, and 12% use non-PM commercial software
- 51% of organizations use collaboration tools to support project delivery
The following software can help you manage your projects, keeping you and your teams aware of both the big picture and the deliverables.
Wrike is the most powerful work management platform on the market, enabling teams to plan projects and collaborate in real time. Our award-winning software is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including Sony, Estée Lauder, and Siemens.
Wrike’s customizable features include Gantt charts, request forms, dashboards, cross-tagging, time tracking, and proofing. Integrate with 400+ apps from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. Automate repetitive tasks and achieve 50% faster planning. Work from anywhere with 100% access to your files via our mobile and desktop apps.
Whether you’re a small startup or an established brand, Wrike has the solution for you. Paid plans start at $9.80/user/month. Join our community of 2.3 million — start your free two-week trial today.
ClickUp is one of the highest-rated project management tools today. Use Docs, Reminders, Goals, Calendars, Chat, scheduling, assigned comments, custom views, & more with this all-in-one project management tool.
Used by 800,000+ teams in companies like Airbnb, Google, and Uber, it brings all of your projects into a single app! Built for teams of all sizes and industries, Our fully customizable & proprietary features make it a must-have for anyone wanting to keep project management in one place.
monday.com Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently.
Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. monday.com offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress.
In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. monday.com also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.
Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.
5 Zoho Projects
Zoho Projects is an online project management application that helps its users to plan projects, collaborate with employees and clients, keep track of time, manage documents, and generate charts and reports. Users work on a central platform where they can keep track of progress, discuss ideas, communicate easily and stay updated. It is cloud-based and highly accessible, where user data is kept safe with stringent security systems. The software is also scalable depending on the number of projects, with the option to add more features. Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you plan your work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with your team wherever they are.
10 Common Causes of Why Projects Fail
There are many reasons why projects fail and most can be avoided with prior knowledge and awareness. The following are 10 common causes of project failure. Knowing about and getting ahead of them will help you better prepare for the success of your next project.
Lack of preparation
Having a clear picture of what is required and what you need to do from the very beginning is the best strategy, otherwise you will find yourself endlessly playing catch up. Understand what is needed from the start, and do everything you can to avoid losing focus of it.
Lacking an outline of clear next steps will put the project in reaction mode, and that can turn into chaos quickly. Schedule a meeting with stakeholders at the start to discuss and document their requirements on cost, time, and product quality. Know how you will execute your tasks in order to meet everyone’s expectations.
Example: Skipping or rushing a formal project kickoff meeting with all involved can lead to you being ill-prepared for project tasks or goals.
Inadequate documentation and tracking
Concise project documentation and upkeep is the coordinated responsibility of the project manager and project leads. Tracking work items as milestones is the best way to know if you are meeting deadlines. Moreover, proper recording and monitoring of vital project information allows the project manager to identify where resources are needed to complete a project on time.
Example: There isn’t a way to measure project success when important documents are not kept or are not easy to locate.
Project leadership is not the sole responsibility of the project manager. Leaders at each management-level have a responsibility and investment to ensure the project is successful. Management should not micro-manage but provide support to ensure project managers can follow through with the expectations placed upon them. Running a project without solid management support will do more harm than good.
Example: Poor leadership can develop when leaders are not fully engaged because they have too much on their plate.
Failure to define parameters and enforce them
It is imperative for the project manager to be able to work well with the project team and schedule the work in a way that makes the most sense. If and when tasks or goals do not meet the standard, there should be an effort to review and reiterate what is expected, by whom, and by when. Continually review and rank tasks by priority, and assign them to the most proficient project team members for the best work outcome.
Example: Project scope creep resulting from project requirements can change planned deliverables as work progresses.
Inexperienced project managers
Project managers have great responsibility. These professionals bring a certain level of education and experience to the project. It is inevitable that a new and inexperienced project manager will come on board to handle projects.
They may be capable of managing projects, but they need to be the right fit for the project and gain the support from management, so they can succeed. Anything less is a recipe for failure. Challenges are good and push boundaries to instigate growth as long as the stretch is not too far out of reach. Inexperienced project managers are, at times, a primary cause of project failure.
Example: Organizational structures to support good project management and the people who perform it simply do not exist in many companies. Plus, some companies lack a formal project management methodology.
Inaccurate cost estimates
There may be times when your cost estimates are not reflecting the work needed or something has not been accounted for completely. When resources run-out, the project stops. Prevent this fail trigger by completing a thorough investigation of cost estimating and double-checking with leads for their sign off on the numbers, so the correct resources can be secured. Inaccurate cost estimates are a common cause of project failure.
Example: There is often a challenge with costing work on a project that has not been done before or is outside the normal type of work created.
Poor communication across teams
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 concerns or give suggestions and be heard. When everyone is on the same page and the project has transparency, workflow is at an optimum level.
Example: Teams are not aligned on project goals because they don’t know how or when to communicate updates.
Culture and ethics at odds
Company culture should comprise competence, proactiveness, 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. Diverse teams can create amazing work when project goals and work styles are aligned.
Example: Mismatched work ethics, geographic time zone issues, and language barriers can cloud the common goal and affect outcomes.
Poor resource planning
Inadequate resource forecasting is a leading cause of project failure over 20% 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 understand and confirm how many people are needed and for how long, and they need to schedule those people to be available when needed.
Example: Project failure can occur when there are limited resources or there is an inability to get the resources in place to get the job done due to budget and time constraints.
Disregarding warning signs
When a project is on the verge of failing, warning signs become increasingly obvious. Project managers should take action immediately to save the project. Being able to identify red flags early on and steer clear of them is the responsibility of the project manager, who is tasked with being transparent about issues and sharing them with key team leaders before it is too late to fix a problem.
Example: Missed or delayed deadlines cause rushed work and growing delays.
The Importance Keeping Control of a Project’s Details
Clearly, a project’s success or failure is going to hinge largely on the abilities of your team and you (as the project manager) to manage the details of the project and its deliverables.
This short video from global IT consultant Accenture explains.
How Remote Working Has Impacted Project Failure
The more recent and sudden culture of working remotely has definitely had an impact on project failure. There are both pros and cons to being able to work from anywhere in the world, and the results of project failure and success in this environment are still being calculated.
Ways remote working teams have made it more likely for a project to fail:
- An intermix of time zones makes it more difficult to coordinate and address things in a timely manner.
- There are more distractions and a need for more meetings to get the work moving; not everyone on a team is cut out or equipped for remote work.
- It becomes harder to keep everyone’s attention when they are not in person and have the ability to mute themselves or turn off their camera to do other things.
Ways remote work has made projects less likely to fail:
- There are more tools than ever to keep teams connected and accountable.
- Remote teams have an opportunity to work 24/7 across time zones to speed up progress.
- Work flexibility creates less burnout for teams when they don’t have commutes and long days sitting in uncomfortable cubicles and office settings.
How to Avoid Project Failure
These are all common reasons for project failure. Adequate employee training, project management software, solid project planning, and management transparency leads to a successful project.
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 learning from failure and eliminating future project failures. Users easily manage tasks like time tracking, cost tracking, and cost estimations.
The bottom line? Projects fail, but usually, full failure is avoidable. While a 100% success rate isn’t realistic, it’s important to be aware of common project pitfalls in order to give your work the best chance of success. The top 10 reasons projects fail outlined in this article will hopefully keep you aware of what to look out for, so you have the best rate of success on your next project and sidestep project management failure.
Learn More: Check Out These Project Management Courses from TechRepublic Academy!