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3 Most Common Reasons for Project Failure

16 Nov 2017
3 Most Common Reasons for Project Failure

The goal of every project manager is the success of any project, but managing a project is a journey, organisation and unexpected events. In other, more realistic terms, project management is complete, people and problems are complete, and fundamental changes and styles are only with people or problems. The project’s described success rate is unrealistic so failure can happen. As per data from PMI1, over 70% of projects have stated baseline objectives. Most of them have experienced projects that fail to meet the scope of deliverables, stay within budget, meet quality requirements, miss deadlines, or change in scope over time. Many pitfalls can overthrow the projects; in this article, we will highlight 3 main reasons for project failure and how we can prevent them.

Why Do Projects Fail?

In general, only one of four projects can be considered 100% successful, while large and complex projects fail more than small ones. This failure can happen for many reasons:

  • Project objectives are unclear (undefined goals). 
  • Poor communication or miscommunication.
  • Lack of progress tracking (lack of monitoring).
  • Scope creep
  • Limited resources.
  • Poor risk management (undefined risks).
  • Inaccurate requirements. 
  • Changing priorities within an organisation. 
  • Inexperienced project manager. z
  • Lack of transparency.
  • Unrealistic deadlines. 
  • Poor project management power skills.

And many more reasons can lead to project failure.

1. Project objectives

Unclear, conflicting, and un-agreed objectives are all common reasons for project failure before it starts.

Why do we do the project? What value will we have from the project? What will we achieve at the end of the project? Clear answers mean clear goals. The project objectives must be specific, tangible, or intangible, and the project manager sets them before the project begins to define its Scope. These objectives help stakeholders understand what to expect from the project. Each project has its unique objectives that must meet the SMART goals outline.

What are SMART goals?

The SMART method allows the creation of concise, specific, and actionable goals.


So, the first step to getting into a new project is to identify the project objectives before the project starts. After gathering the necessary information, it is time to present it to the project stakeholders; the best way is to create the project charter. Due to ineffective communications, this project charter could give the stakeholder a clear and precise view of project objectives, scope, and responsibilities to get their approval before the start.

2. Poor communication

The most crucial job of the project manager is to plan communication for the project. Poor or miscommunication between the project manager, stakeholders, and project team can lead to failure.

PMI's2 research revealed that effective communication with all stakeholders is a project's most crucial success factor, and 55% of project managers agree.

According to this report, an average of two in five projects must meet their objectives, and half fail due to ineffective communication. Organisations that communicate more effectively have more successful projects. 80% met their original goals, 71% completed projects on time, and 76% stayed within budget. However, only one in four organisations can be easier as highly effective communicators.

Organisation that communicate more effectively have more successful projects

Also, PMI’s 2013 Pulse of the Profession report revealed that ineffective communication puts US$135 million at risk for every US$ billion spent on a project. In addition, findings show that high performers are highly effective communicators, and high-performing organisations put 14 times fewer dollars at risk.

So, to avoid project failure, you must plan for highly effective communication and develop a communication management plan to highly and effectively engage the stakeholders by analysing their needs and by determining who should receive the project communication, what they should receive, who should do the communication, the way of communication and how we communicate with them, which communication technology we should use and how many channels, when and how often we should send project status updates. For instance, regular team meetings, weekly progress reports, and open-door policies for team members to voice their concerns are all effective communication strategies.

Moreover, one especially crucial factor that could affect the project is the interpersonal skills of the project manager and their ability to communicate with their team, which is the key to success for any project. They can bring them together to achieve the project goals, motivate them, and manage any conflict within the team. Without strong interpersonal skills, it will be challenging to communicate and build an effective, high-performance team.

Also, regardless of the project team size, every team member should have the right to communicate and have their own space to give their opinion, pass their voice, and express their suggestions and concerns to communicate and participate effectively.

In addition, it encourages collaboration and communication between the team and stakeholders. Promote an open culture, arrange an open plan office, get the project team co-located, arrange social events to get the project team active and enable them to communicate.

3. Lack of Project tracking (Progress tracking)

Putting a project management plan in place does not mean the project will succeed or fail. Once the execution of the work starts on the ground, it is necessary to track the actual work vs the planned work. Poor project monitoring and tracking can lead to unfinished tasks, late detection of problems and difficulty in solving them immediately; also, it becomes more difficult to reallocate resources, and sometimes the work goes out of control, leading to missing crucial deadlines or going over budget and thus, failure of the project.

So, successful project managers should efficiently track the actual work and any changes that may occur to the project. Usually, five exact moves rarely match the planned ones; there is always a variance between planned work and actuality. In an organisational sound tracking system, the project manager should be able to identify any variation and change and complete these variations. Moreover, if they can affect the project track, describe its objectives.

To do this, during execution, the manager must lead the project team and engage stakeholders. Provide leadership throughout each phase of the project to motivate the team, ensure consistent interpretation of the requirements, keep the project on schedule and within budget, and ensure all milestones are met. Their leadership skills are a critical success factor of the project.

Furthermore, the project manager should focus on evaluating the work performance, developing the variance analysis between actual work and planned work to assess the impact of variation and take corrective action if necessary. Also, evaluate work performance and the project status and look for indicators in project variables; we can mention here earned management value (EVMs) that monitor the project progression to see if the project is on track and to check cost and schedule progression and to estimate what amount of the budget and time should have been spent right on the work done so far.


The work performance data can be collected and presented in progress reports; the project progress reports provide further insight into deliverables, risks, and performance and allow stakeholders to stay updated.

Do not forget the Gantt chart, which helps the project manager to overview the tasks and milestones at any point of the project life cycle.

So, monitoring and tracking the project that works is an opportunity to adjust and adapt the work to ensure the project's success, which sometimes may, for the project manager, result in schedule modification corrective measures. This involves regularly comparing the project's progress to the initial plan, identifying any deviations, and taking corrective preventive actions, such as fast-track schedules crashing schedules or implementing mitigation plans.

As we can see, projects fail due to several causes, and once the project fails, the blame goes directly to the project manager. They should be observant, always alert, and attentive to details.

Once you are hired to run a project, keep in mind the possibility of failure, and in front of you, success is the primary goal; it will rarely be easier to produce reasonable solutions for the project. After you finish preparing for your project and starting it, you can set a pre-mortem meeting that gives you and your team a little to get together and imagine the worst failure scenario that may hit your project; it is an opportunity to identify weaknesses and opportunities to reduce any risks that may lead to its failure.

Failure is a reality; the successful project manager puts failure in their journey and tries to avoid the reasons that can lead their project to fail. It is not a pessimistic and dark view of the project's future, but it cannot be escaped in the world of project management.

Finally, to avoid failure, you can join us and enrol in the Stakeholder Management and Communications course, where you will learn how to analyse stakeholders and the right way to communicate.

This is an edited version of a blog published by Andrew Bell from Andrew is an academic adviser to the Institute of Project Management.

Reference Literature:

1PMI. 2015. "Do your projects fail? "

2PMI. 2013. "PMI's Pulse Of The Profession In-Depth Report ."