11 reasons why projects can fail

When organisations decide to start a project or any form of transformation within their business, it is generally to solve an existing problem and increase future productivity and efficiency.

The overall project needs to be managed properly in order for it to be successful but not all projects are managed properly which leads to project failure, and can lead to further problems and issues for the organisation. Let’s look at some of the reasons why some projects can fail and what organisations can do to avoid failure.

  1. Unclear goals and expectations
  • When starting a project, always ensure that you have a detailed business case documented that clearly articulates what the organisation is trying to achieve. You should share this with the project team to ensure an understanding of the goals and expectations. 
  • Project team members always need to be clear on their deliverables therefore a clear project plan, project schedule and roles & responsibilities is very important for a successful project delivery. 
  • If project team members are unclear on their roles or unsure of what is expected of them, then further planning or communication is required otherwise it can lead to project failure. 
  • As a project manager/sponsor, you don’t want your team to be under stress when there are deadlines and critical paths to be met. Have your expectations outlined at the beginning of the project to avoid unnecessary failure. 
  1. Lack of business engagement
  • A project team need to be mindful that once the project is completed, it’s the business users who will be using the new system/process that is being developed therefore, it is important that key members from the business are involved in your project from an early stage. 
  • As the project manager, you need to identify who those key members are and make them part of your project team. If you are missing the business engagement during your project, you are more than likely going to have issues when you are about to hand over your project to the BAU team. 
  • They need to go through the journey of the implementation of the new system/process with you so they can understand the need for the change and the change itself. 
  • Once the project team hand the completed project over to BAU team, they would know what has been developed by the project team, and the BAU team will have the confidence and knowledge in using the systems/processes along with delivering the service to the wider organisation. Again, if the business involvement is lacking, engage the right people as soon as possible. 
  1. Project scope creep
  • Once your project plan has been baselined, try to avoid incorporating new requirements. If it’s critical to incorporate new requirements as part of the project, then you may need to raise these as a change request which needs to go through the change control process within the project. 
  • It’s very important for the project manager/sponsor to remember that If you keep adding new requirements to your existing project plan, then you will be working towards an unrealistic project plan and you could end up failing the overall project/program of work if new requirements keep getting added to the current scope. 
  1. Lack of support from the project sponsor
  • A project sponsor’s involvement is crucial to the success of a project. As a project manager, you will need to reach out to the sponsor when you need to discuss issues or obtain clear guidance/direction and support. If the project sponsor is missing from the project, then the project may be on track for failure. 
  • There needs to be a strong working relationship between the project manager and sponsor, and a mutual understanding of how to make the project a success.. Without this, a project may encounter issues and lead to possible failure. 
  1. Inexperienced project manager
  • It is important for a project manager to have the right skills and experience to manage a project, for example: people skills, communication skills, relationship building, understanding stakeholder expectations and vendor management. 
  • Projects can be both costly and timely so having an inexperienced project manager in place could lead to possible issues as the project progresses along. 
  1. Inexperienced project team members
  • It is very important to have the right people with the right skill sets on the project team to ensure success of the project. Your project will fail if you are expecting 1 or 2 people in the team to do all the project related work. 
  • You need the right number of people with the right experience behind them to carry out the project tasks, guide others around them and work as a team to deliver the project on time. You need team players that can easily collaborate with others and get the job done to meet project deadlines.
  1. Communication issues
  • Managing people can be challenging at any given time. As a project manager, you need to identify what is the best way to communicate to all your team members and to make sure when you communicate to them, that the message is clear and is received by all your team members.  
  • Clear communication is imperative for project success. If the project plan and expectations are not clearly understood by the project team members, tasks may not be completed on time, which could have a domino effect on the overall project.  Projects always have a diverse range of stakeholders therefore identifying the best way to communicate to everyone is imperative. 
  1. Relationship breakdown
  • As a project manager, you need to be mindful that you managing a team of different personalities. There will be times when relationships between project members break down. As the leader of the project, you need to be able to solve their problem if they can’t resolve it amongst themselves. Do not let that behaviour manifest into something major that can have a negative impact on your project. 
  1. Change management 
  • You will always find organisations and people within the organisations that are not ready for a big change. This is where a good change management team needs to take the organisation on a journey of explaining to them what and why the need for the change. 
  • The change management team needs to work with the project team, understand what changes will be occurring and then communicate the changes to the business stakeholders.  
  • If the change management piece is done well, you will have staff willing to accept the change, but if it’s not done well then you may have a problem on your hands with angst amongst the staff. A change management team needs to educate the organisation of why the change is happening, the benefits of the change, how the change will impact them individually and the overall organisational impact. 
  • People tend to respond positively towards the change once they understand the need for the change so explain the “WHY” and you will have acceptance for the change. 
  1. Risk management
  • Every project has its own risks and challenges therefore it needs to have a proper risk management strategy/plan in place so all risks associated with the implementation can be documented once identified. 
  • If risks have not been identified, managed and mitigated appropriately during the project planning phase, you will find that issues may arise in your project.  
  • Risk management is everybody’s responsibility. 
  1. Unsupportive vendor 
  • Ultimately, you are engaging a vendor to provide you a product/service that you are paying for. The vendor needs to have the best interests for its clients front of mind, they need to understand you and your business and the problem you trying to solve with their product/service. 
  • In my experience, not all vendors are flexible when it comes to amending the project scope. There will be requirements that come up during the project phase which weren’t previously thought of and this is where you need your vendor to have your best interests at mind and make exceptions. 
  • The vendors should always think about building long term relationships and repeatable business from their clients. As long as it is a reasonable ask from the client, the vendor should work to accommodate the request.