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How to Avoid Project Failures

18 Mar 2021
How to Avoid Project Failures

In this series, we will take a closer look at the role and responsibilities of the project manager. In this article, we will have a look at failures. Why some projects fail while others achieve their goal? Who is responsible for the project failures? Most importantly, what can be done to prevent failures? and can a good project manager do anything to prevent the failure of the project?

Why do projects fail?

First of all, 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 outlined and planned at the very start of the project. If the purpose is accomplished and the goals are met, the project can be called successful.

On the other hand, anything short of success is a failure. That means, if the project does not deliver the desired goal if it does not succeed to perform the expected action, it is a failure. Among the failed projects are not only those that never see their completion but also those that are delivered too late, their cost exceeds the budget and the quality of their outcome product or service is below the expected standard.

According to various researches, up to a third of all project end up with a higher cost than initially planned, while almost half of all projects encountering 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 failures

8 reasons why projects fail

There are many causes of project failures. While some causes are connected to the initiation and planning process, other causes appear during the project execution. Most of the causes 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 with a new project. Good scope definition will determine the individual deliverable clearly and concisely 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 will lead to failure to deliver the product, or its parts, on time. Alternatively, the product or service delivered will lack quality.

4. Lack of management support

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

5. Lack of control

Even if the project manager has enough experience and is constantly present, he or she may be denied control over the project. Due to the inability to make decisions, the project will lack a leader that can steer the wheel and keep it on the course.

6. Lack of resources

This problem can emerge toward the end of the project, especially if the project takes longer than expected. It may lead to the necessity of working overtime, increased cost and increased tension within the team.

7. Inaccurate budget planning

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

8. Poor communication

Last but not least, a failure to communicate adequately and on time will inevitably result in project failure. It is practically impossible to succeed if the team members don’t have adequate information and the reporting is not done well and on time.

4 Steps to Avoid Project Failure

One of the great ways to you as a project manager can avoid the above-mentioned pitfalls is to employ the rule including four steps: plan, lead, communicate, manage.

1. Plan

Planning is the most important part of managing a project! Planning includes identifying the stakeholders, analysing project risk, developing the project plan, defining requirements and establishing communication with the team members. Good planning will save the project from problems with 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 success of the project. 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 step in when the project takes on the wrong direction.

3. Communicate

Communication is not an easy step, yet its good execution pays off. Communication includes sharing objectives and recognizing different perspectives. A good communicator is not afraid to face different opinions or address assumptions. Only by communication the goals and expectations are clearly defined. Part of the art of communication is to allow for feedback and criticism that lead to improvement of work, environment and relationships.

4. Manage

Good managing means leading by example, setting the expectations and requirements and remaining at the scene at all times. A project manager is a teacher and mentor, so part of 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.