Why Projects Fail - 10 Major Pitfalls You Need To Avoid (Part I)

Why Projects Fail - 10 Major Pitfalls You Need To Avoid (Part I)

To know whether we have higher chances of delivering a project successfully, we can look at historic data (like IBM study, McKinsey, KPMG, Standish Group or alike research/survey findings). Even after you figured out the probability of success, the best way you can succeed delivering projects is by knowing 'why projects fail' and avoiding reasons that can cause project failure.

Business Continuity = Sustained project success

Why Projects FailAnd this equation is true for many organizations where business is driven by successful project delivery. Of course, successful project can have many meaning, generally it is considered as 'Project Delivery On-Time, Within Budget, of Desired Quality'. But the one that matters the most is what success means to client. Project failure, on the other had is reverse case. Any one of the project delivery aspects like timeline, cost, quality, scope, etc gets compromised, can lead to project failure. It really depends on the client, vendor and also on project what is critical for successful project delivery e.g. for aerospace-manufacturing industry delivery timeline are typically prolonged, any compromise on quality is simply unacceptable, cost overrun are not uncommon.For ad/creative agencies, timeline and quality are critical and way important than budget/cost.

And the question keeps haunting your organization WHY PROJECTS FAIL ?

There are plenty of reasons why projects fail. Largely project failure are because of lack-of-processes. Here are ten common compromises that will help you understand why projects fail, and how to avoid them from failing.

Lack of Processes - (procurement, planning, change, risks, communication)

Why Projects Fail - lack of processes

You will notice, once you go through each of the following points, is actually about having sound processes. If you do not have well defined processes (it could be agile), it essentially means that your project delivery is ad hoc, unpredictable and it is one of the prime reasons why projects fail. For sustainable successful delivery of projects, organizations should have sound processes. It takes little longer to attain such processes but it ensures you are ready to handle different, difficult situations, adversaries.

Take a look at this article for project management processes (pdf).

Missing clear goals, objectives, Measurement Indicators

One of the most predominant reasons, why projects fail is: Lack of clearly defined goals or objectives for projects (or your organization) will leave you without focus. At every phase, stage of the project lifecycle, there has to be clear objective - why, how, when it should be done.

Having clear measures of project success - again keeps the project team focused. Project team, higher management, client and partners know what to expect. If you would like to know why projects fail, you should follow this management jargon is 'WHAT GETS MEASURED, GETS DONE' (I am sure you would be aware of Management by Objectives).

Changing project requirements

Change in project requirements can have direct effect on - project scope, change in timeline / project schedule, project budget / project cost, realignment of resource - skillset, and indirect effect on pressure, team's morale, and so on. If one looks at historical data to figure out the most common reason why projects fail - it would be unclear requirements and change in project requirement.

'Any change in project requirement' gives project manager a headache. Sometimes it is avoidable, sometimes it is absolutely necessary for client. But again, it means that initial work of gathering project requirements was far-less-than-perfect i.e. lack of processes.

Take a look at this article for basics of project planning (pdf).

Plenty of projects/work to manage, inadequate project resources

The focus on topline drives organizations to take up plenty of projects simultaneously. With sudden surge in new projects, more often than not, organizations do not have capacity to manage those projects. That makes project managers to juggle between projects. If there is a resources crunch, project managers have to get involved in resources hiring, on-boarding and training. Unless your organization has champions to manage projects, the bottom-line will start to deteriorate.

Having Inexperienced project manager, or micro-manager

This one is basic but again related to above point. In absence of enough experienced project manager (and sometimes to false pretense of promotion/giving visibility), inexperienced team leaders are tasked to manage projects. I have seen instances where college graduates within one year out of college were made project managers and seen working with clients. At the cost of generalizing it, let me say this: project management is discipline. One need experience to deal with client, define project deliverable, create timeline, identifying skilled resource, assigning project activities to these resources, delegation, stakeholder management, etc.

Project manager is the most important man/woman, who drives project, who is largely considered responsible for project success or failure.

We will look at at other pitfalls like inadequate budget, management support, skills/communication gap, etc reasons which can answer why projects fail in next part.