5 Reasons Projects Fail

Written by on November 26, 2012 in Project Management with 0 Comments

Jane’s been given the task of leading a project for her company.  She is very reluctant to take on the role because projects in her company have often failed.  She’s been told by her supervisor that they are confident in her ability to successfully lead the project.

The big question for Jane is why projects fail?  And in particular, what can she do to ensure her project is a success.  Projects fail for lots of reasons. It really doesn’t matter if the project is simple or complex, large or small.  If you want your project to be successful, you need to be aware of these 5 pitfalls preventing project success.

  1. Poor Planning
  2. Lack of PM Experience
  3. Lack of Resources/Money
  4. Lack of Commitment/Team Involvement
  5. Unclear Objectives

Poor Planning

The first reason why projects fail is lack of planning. It’s not just the big projects that need to be planned; it’s the smaller projects that can trip you up. Many people just jump right into trying to fix the problem without understanding all of the ramifications of the project they are undertaking. They think it’s just a small project – they don’t need to think it through. Or, they think it won’t take much time so why spend a lot of time creating planning documents.

Planning for smaller projects doesn’t have to be a big, elaborate project plan. In fact, a good plan can be completed on one page. As a project manager, you need to really understand what the project is expected to accomplish, the criteria for success, the boundaries for the project (scope), the resources available to you in terms of people, time, and money, and how long you have to complete the project.

If Jane spends a couple of hours getting clear on the project requirements and gets signoff by management, she will be well on the way to completing a successful project.

Lack of Project Management Experience

Another reasons projects fail is due to the lack of project management experience of the leader. Unless the project is really big and complex, you don’t need someone with a PMI Certification. One of the best ways to learn how to manage a project, is to work on several projects in a supporting role. Observe how the project manager organizes time and handles problems as they arise.

Good project managers understand that communication is very important to project success. Good communication includes all three facets: written, visual and verbal. The project manager must be able to write clearly, put information into visual form in spreadsheets and graphs, and be able to present ideas to everyone in the organization from upper management to the line workers.

A good project manager also knows how to build trust in the team and to delegate responsibilities effectively. Often, an inexperienced project manager will not trust the team to complete the project tasks correctly. The project manager then takes on too much of the project responsibility. This sends the wrong message to the team and overburdens the project manager with tasks better delegated to others.

Jane needs to take the time to develop her team and and create a communication plan. She might find a mentor or advisor within the company who she can ask questions when she is stuck. She can take a course in project management to learn some techniques that she can then apply to her project.

Lack of Resources/Money

Under-funded or under-staffed projects are a major reason why projects fail. Many times upper management sees the need for a project and asks those in the organization to make it work. Instead of revising priorities, the new project is simply added to the list of tasks that must get done. Without clearly established priorities, the project is doomed to fail.

In the current business climate, people are being asked to accomplish more with fewer resources. It’s not that the projects are unimportant. It’s the lack of prioritization and strategic planning that leads to long delays in projects and ultimate failure.

Jane needs to identify the available resources for the project and sit with the management team to clearly understand the priorities and to negotiate for the resources she needs to be successful.

Lack of Commitment / Team Involvement

This reason for project failure is fueled by the first three reasons projects fail. People need to understand why the project is important to them and how they can be a part of its successful implementation. Communication is the key to building commitment within the organization.

It’s also important to have the right team members involved. Too many people, the wrong people or not enough people can doom a project from the very beginning. Jane also needs to understand team dynamics-how teams are formed, how team members learn about each other’s strengths, and how to get the team to work together to achieve a win-win solution to problems.

Unclear Objectives

The final reason project fail is unclear objectives. Misunderstandings occur in organizations all the time because the objective of the project is not clearly defined. Management believes the project should achieve one objective but the team thinks it’s something else. This problem can be addressed through planning and communication.


Jane now understands the factors that can lead to project failure. By taking action to address these five concerns, Jane stands a good chance of completing a successful project.

All projects must have the following to be successful:

  1. A plan that is appropriate to the size and scope of the project.
  2. An experienced project manager
  3. Available resources (time, money and people)
  4. A committed team
  5. Clear project objectives

By the way, if you really want to discover the fundamentals for project success, check this out: http://smallbusinessprojectmanagement.com.


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