Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail


Choosing between failure and success

As a project management consultant at JPStewart Associates, I have discovered that many projects fail outright. And further, that many of them fail for the same reasons. So I have compiled a Top Ten list of Reasons Why Projects Fail, largely from my own experience.  I’ve also tried to share some ideas about how each of these problems can be overcome.

#1 – Scope Creep

Scope is everything that you are going to do and conversely, not going to do. So once you’ve figured out exactly what the project work is, usually via a Work Breakdown Structure, you need to freeze it and zealously guard against unplanned changes to it. So planned changes via a change control board are ok, since then the PM can issue a new schedule, risk and budget plan as needed. Otherwise, you will surely miss your target and make both the management and customer unhappy.

#2 – Overallocated Resources

Often there are too few resources working on too many projects at the same time. In conjunction with that, managers don’t seem to have a grip on what their resources are doing all the time.  Team members are left to figure out for themselves what projects they should be working on and when. Better is for managers to meet weekly to discuss resource usage perhaps using a spreadsheet to track.

#3 – Poor Communications

Many people on a project will know the project manager only through his or her communications. And they will know them by how their voice comes across over the phone or especially by how well-written their emails are. If the project manager is not a clear unambiguous communicator, chaos and confusion will ensue.

#4 –Bad Stakeholder Management

Stakeholders have a vested interest in the project for the good or sometimes to the detriment of the project. It is the project manager’s job not only to identify all stakeholders, but know how to manage and communicate with them in a timely fashion.  A communication management plan helps here.

#5 – Unreliable Estimates

Estimates are very often just guesstimates by team members who are trying to calculate duration of tasks based on how long it took them last time. This may turn out to be totally accurate or may be completely wrong.  And if wrong, leads to a flawed schedule and increased risk. Historical records kept between projects helps solve this.

#6 – No Risk Management

Every project is unique and hence, has uncertainty. When we try to qualify and quantify that uncertainty, we call it risk. It is incumbent upon the project manager to proactively anticipate things that might go wrong. Once he has identified risks, then he and the team can decide on how to respond to (e.g., mitigate, avoid) those specific risks should they occur.

#7 – Unsupported Project Culture

I was once asked to consult for a company and discovered that a complex project was being handled by an untrained secretary using 20 Excel spreadsheets. In this case, management clearly did not fully understand what it took to manage a project either in tools or using trained personnel. This is not easily solvable because it requires education of management and a cultural shift.

#8 – The Accidental Project Manager

This is similar to but not exactly the same as the unsupported project culture.  In this instance, what typically happens is that a technical person (software developer, chemist, etc.) succeeds at the job. Based on that, gets promoted to project manager and is asked to manage the types of projects they just came from. The problem is they often don’t get training in project management and may well lack the social skills the job calls for. And so they flounder and often fail despite previous successes.

#9 – Lack of Team Planning Sessions

There is no more effective way to kick off a meeting than to have the entire team come together for a planning session. This enables everyone to not only work together on project artifacts (schedule, WBS) but also to bond as a team and buy into the project.

#10 – Monitoring and Controlling

Many project managers will create a schedule and never (or rarely) update it. Or if they do, they’ll just fill in percent done, which is an arbitrary number often picked out of the air by the team member. Better if they record actuals such as date started, work accomplished and estimate of remaining work.

How about looking for a tool to eliminate project failure?

Many of the Top 10 reasons include subjects that could justify the use of a project management tool. Easy access to communications and dynamic updating of the project’s tasks as well as keeping on top of who is doing what (ie. resource allocation) are just some of the benefits that a tool such as one of those mentioned below can provide. Take a look!

Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart

Since 2003, as a principal of JP Stewart Associates, Jim has been engaged in multiple endeavors including consulting, training and mentoring. A PMP since 2001 and Certified Scrum Master since 2013, he provides PMP Prep training both in public and private in-house sessions.

7 Responses

  1. Avatar Uladzislau Shauchenka says:

    I’d like to recommend Why Projects Fail as a related resource – in this book you can find project management case studies, analyze of failed projects, suggestions and recommendations.

  2. Avatar Kirtiraj Jilkar says:

    Project fail for different reasons in different geogaphies.

  3. Avatar Ricardo Soares says:

    Very good list, I have been supporting project managers all over the world, and I dont think I ever saw a project failing for a reason that is not in that top ten list 🙂
    And surprisingly I saw more projects failing due to poor experience of the project manager in western countries than in emergent markets, very good lesson.

  4. Avatar Ankita Masi says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for sharing such a nice article. Your article is very informative and useful. I read recently an article about How to manage and deliver successful projects? it’s really impressive.

  5. Avatar Mr. Andrew says:

    Always dont plan to fail, before you start to initiate a project know where you’re heading.

  6. Avatar unichrone learning says:

    Nice information.

  7. Very informative. To solve this problem on day to day basis, I use Stafiz tool. For more details on how this can solve project management, please visit this page :

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