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Reasons for failure of projects in project management practices

Probably each of us has witnessed a failed project. Numerous studies show that many projects fail or do not meet the set parameters for scope, time and cost.

Here is the data provided by Wrike (based on The Standish Group: CHAOS Research Report 2013):

Percentage of successful projects: 39% of all projects are successful (completed on time, within budget and with all necessary features and functions)
43% are problematic (overdue, over budgeted, and / or with fewer features and features required)
18% are unsuccessful (either discontinued before completion or their results never used).
Survey results show that over 60% of all projects are problematic or unsuccessful.

And from the same survey:

Average completion rate: 69%
Average cost: 59%
Average delay: 74%

To judge whether a project is successful, we must have the appropriate criteria. Not criteria for failure, but criteria for success. Failure is about failing to meet the criteria for success.

What criteria we can measure the success of the project is a topic that deserves a separate post. Generally speaking, a project is successful when its benefits outweigh its costs.

Project Benefits> Project Costs

A positive balance depends on:

The extent to which the project objectives are achieved (the benefits of the project are realized)
Cost of resources (including time) incurred for the project
As we can see from the example above, in most cases the success of the project is measured in terms of whether we fit in the parameters of time, cost and scope. But if we have not achieved the goals of the project, achieving these parameters is irrelevant. Therefore, some of the above 39% successful projects will ultimately also be unsuccessful as they will not achieve their objectives.

In order to increase the chance of success of our projects, it is good to know what are the most important reasons for the failure of projects so that we can take appropriate action.

Bad planning in initial Project management phases

Yes, poor planning, including here not only the preparation of the project implementation plan, but also the identification, preliminary studies and project definition. Here’s what bad planning can mean:

Poorly defined project goals (and often even lack of real goals)
Lack of connection of project objectives with the strategic goals of the project owner organization
Incorrect project logic – lack of logical connections between project goals, products, activities and resources
Unrealistic resource planning and hence the cost of the project (usually means underestimation of required resources and costs) – by type, quantity, quality, productivity, availability and motivation
Unrealistic planning of project and project implementation time (usually means underestimation of deadlines)
Poorly defined project scope (see Reason # 3)
Errors and omissions – e.g. missed activities and expenditure items, errors in the technical documentation of the feasibility studies, incorrect sequence of activities
Underestimation or lack of assessment of project risks
Underestimation of the complexity of the project in terms of complexity, innovation, lack of previous experience, etc.
Inadequate project assumptions

What can we do to improve planning?

Generally speaking, we should devote sufficient time, effort and expertise to reflect, define and plan the project. We often make insufficient efforts at the stages that precede the start of project activities and this leads to implementation problems. Making more efforts at these stages (up to 40% of total project time and cost) can lead to lower overall costs and a more successful project;
To evaluate the project at different stages of its preparation and planning. It is advisable to carry out this assessment both by the project team (internal evaluation) and by an external team. The evaluation enables the project to be returned for reprocessing before it is started or to cease work at all before we have committed significant resources to realize a failed project.
Use lessons learned from past projects to improve planning.

The Project manager and their bad communication

Putting bad communication at number two is conditional – it can easily be put at number one as well. Much of the problems with project planning, with the fusion of the scope of the project, with time and cost overruns, and with the objectives not being met, is due to poor communication – within the project team and between the project team and other stakeholders. Whenever we do not agree on the project, there is a different interpretation of the requirements, there are ambiguities about the roles in the project and the tasks,… it is probably a bad communication.

There is no place for heavy definitions, models and classifications (but still for lovers of definitions: “Communication is the act of conveying intended meanings from one person or group to another / others by using mutually intelligible signs and semiotic rules.” :). Instead, here are some typical cases of poor communication in the project:

We believe that once we have prepared clear and complete information and sent it (eg via e-mail), good communication is available. In fact, we need to make sure that the information is received, understood and will be used for its intended purpose. Good communication involves giving and seeking feedback;
Project information is available to interested parties (eg on the company intranet). It is a mistake to think that they are always well acquainted with it;
The project client: “In our opinion, you should do the same.” The project team: “In our view, this is not our job.”
Art. 2 of the contract: “The object of the contract is the delivery of a 3D printer”. Art. 18: “Delivery time is 30 days from the date of conclusion of the contract”. Art. 22: “The Contractor shall be responsible for the installation, testing and operational delivery of the delivery under Art. 2 “. (Are the conditions clear and unambiguous? Do they allow different interpretations from the Contracting Authority and the Contractor? For example – are the installation, testing and operational condition included in the delivery time? If not, what time should they be completed?)
“As a team member, I think my job is to do my job, not to write reports”
“We’ve included all your requirements in the project, so you have no reason to disapprove it,” or “We present a solution that even exceeds your requirements, so your comments about non-compliance with the quality criteria are unfounded.”
“I reminded them that they were late, so I did what was up to me.”
“I’m not a guesser to say how long this task will take.”
“Why didn’t you say earlier that we should do this too?”
“How does the project meet your expectations by constantly changing them?”
How to improve communication in the project? The answer is unambiguous and categorical – using “mutually intelligible signs and semiotic rules” 🙂 :). And more specifically:

The project manager should take a proactive approach and maintain ongoing (especially informal) communication with stakeholders;
Define clear stakeholder responsibilities;
Prepare clear, unambiguous and accurate project documents;
Continually reaffirm and update stakeholder expectations;
For larger projects – to develop a Communication Plan.

Poor project scope management

And what is “scope”? Lift your right palm at eye level, 35 cm from your face. Fingers are tucked away. Now spread your fingers. You just changed the scope :).

Bend your left hand in your hand. Now attach to it the right hand, also curled up in a handful. You just doubled your reach :).

On a macro level, the scope of the project is determined by the project’s products. By adding or removing project products, we increase or decrease our reach. At the micro-level, the scope is determined by the characteristics of the project’s products – as we add new features or extend existing ones, the scope of the project increases (and vice versa). In most cases it does

Poor reach management includes:

Before we begin the implementation of the project – poorly defined scope of the project, which may subsequently lead to additional costs and time to complete the project;
During the implementation of the project – uncontrolled change of scope, which can also lead to the need for additional costs and time.
How to improve reach management?

During project planning – Define clearly and precisely the scope of the project so that the project team, client, and other stakeholders have a common understanding of what needs to be done. Strive to minimize errors and omissions when determining scope. Here are the general recommendations for better project planning that I mentioned above;
During the implementation of the project:
Not to change the scope without comparing its benefits and costs;
We do not change the scope without the permission of the Project Sponsor (or its authorized person) and without the consent of the Project Client;
Demand that we be given extra time and budget to make the change;
For larger projects, we can use procedures and forms to manage the scope.


Read more: Project Management certification trends in 2020

Project management certification may improve your project management processes really well if you train your professionals with the best practices. So maybe this is your next logical step.

The BVOP project management certificate is one of the favorite trends this year because of the great Agile approach and the modern vision of managing projects, products, and people. Reference:

A great resource with an updated list of good project management online certification programs can also be found on the website. Reference:

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Reasons for failure of projects in project management practices

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Author: Anton Radev

Front-End Web Developer

One thought on “Reasons for failure of projects in project management practices”

  1. The article presents common mistakes leading to project failure but also covers very interesting topics in the project management in real-life projects as well.


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