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How to Avoid Project Failures

18 Mar 2021
How to Avoid Project Failures

In this series, we will examine the role and responsibilities of the project manager. This article deals specifically with failures. Why do some projects fail while others succeed? Who is responsible for the project's failures? Most importantly, what can be done to avoid failures? Can a good project manager do anything to prevent the failure of the project?

Why do Projects Fail?

Firstly, what is a success and what is a failure when it comes to a project? Project success can be defined as an achievement of what was originally outlined and planned. If the purpose is accomplished and the goals are met, the project is successful.

On the other hand, anything short of success is a failure. That means if the project does not deliver the desired goal or perform the expected action, it is a failure. Also among the failed projects are those that are delivered too late, are over the budget, and are lower of quality than expected.

According to substantial research, up to a third of all projects cost more than initially planned, while almost half of all projects encounter difficulties in terms of resources and communication. Most of these difficulties are linked, in one way or another, to a lack of planning.

Causes of Project Failure

8 reasons why projects fail

There are many causes of project failure. While some are connected to the initiation and planning process, other causes appear during the project execution. Most of these can be labelled as “missed opportunities”. The following list includes some of the main causes of project failures:

1. Lack of structure

A project that lacks structure cannot succeed. By structure, we mean a detailed and thorough planning process. Planning is crucial for any project, and when done inadequately, the project will encounter difficulties.

2. Poor definition of scope

Scoping is one of the first tasks awaiting a project manager when starting a new project. Good scope definition will clearly and concisely determine the individual deliverable, while poor scope definition can cause havoc during the project execution.

3. Unrealistic milestones

It is very important to set realistic goals, especially when it comes to individual project milestones. Unrealistic timeframes make it hard to deliver the product, or its parts, on time. Alternatively, the product or service delivered will lack quality.

4. Lack of management support

Some project team leaders and junior managers are left “unattended”, meaning that there is no supervision by an experienced senior manager. This may cause many issues stemming from the junior manager's lack of experience.

5. Lack of control

Even if the project manager has enough experience and is constantly present, they may be denied control over the project. Due to their inability to make decisions, the project will lack direction.

6. Lack of resources

This problem can emerge toward the end of the project, especially if the project takes longer than expected. It may necessitate working overtime, raise costs, and increase tension within the team.

7. Inaccurate budget planning

If the budget is inaccurately determined at the start of the project, it will inevitably result in higher costs.

8. Poor communication

Last but not least, the inability to adequately communicate on time will lead to project failure. It is practically impossible to succeed if the team members don’t have adequate information and the reporting is poorly done or late.

Four Steps to Avoid Project Failure

A great way to avoid the above-mentioned pitfalls is to employ these four steps: plan, lead, communicate, and manage.

1. Plan

Planning is the most important part of managing a project. It includes identifying stakeholders, analysing project risk, developing the project plan, defining requirements, and establishing communication with the team members. Good planning will save the project from poor scope definition, lack of structure, and unrealistic milestones.

2. Lead

A project manager is a leader, and the quality of the leadership will reflect in the project's success. As a project manager, be proactive in setting clear expectations for the team and establishing well-defined directions for their work. Do not be afraid to ask for assistance when needed and connect to the management for further support. At the same time, do not forget the importance of regular control and to step in when the project starts going in the wrong direction.

3. Communicate

Communication is not an easy step, but it pays off if done correctly. Communication includes sharing objectives and recognising different perspectives. A good communicator is not afraid to face different opinions or address assumptions. Only by communication are the goals and expectations clearly defined. Part of the art of communication is to allow for feedback and criticism that improves the work, environment, and relationships.

4. Manage

Good managing means leading by example, setting expectations and requirements, and remaining at the scene at all times. A project manager is a teacher and a mentor, so good management involves taking time to train the team and offer consultation along the way.

All in all, it is essential for project managers to know how to overcome project failure by adopting both leadership and proper management. Proper techniques of project management will surely result in project success. Explore our Certified Agile Project Management course to enhance your project management and leadership skills.


PMBOK© Guide: A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 7th Edition. Project Management Institute, 2021.