Why Can Projects Fail?

Table of Contents

90% of projects executed are delivered with delay. – 50% of them are delivered involving a larger budget than foreseen. – 50% do not fulfill their objectives. – 30% are canceled before completion.

According to one of the best-known authors in project management, Dr. J. Davidson Frame (2005), projects fail for two major reasons:

a) failures in estimation, and

b) failures in implementation.

Some of the main reasons why projects fail are as follows:

– The initial cost and time estimates are not reviewed

– The plans are not followed correctly

– The project manager lacks sufficient training

– The scope of the project changes with no control

– The wrong methodology is applied.

– Communication is scarce.

– The tests carried out are not enough.

– The project management theory is not correctly applied.

– There is no support from the senior management.



Even though project management is not yet recognized as a profession in many parts of the world, it has tremendous impact in many countries. The project manager profession demands a lot of preparation and, above all, sufficient experience to correctly apply the knowledge and skills to the project activities in order to meet its requirements. It’s a process through which one plans, executes and controls, seeking to achieve the desired results.

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Figure 1: Project management

Source: Shutterstock

This is a job that will normally involve:

Conflicting demands in terms of scope, time, cost, risk and quality: A project is a dynamic system that needs to remain in ongoing balance. Managing a project is an effort that involves administering a series of integrated activities. If a given activity does not yield the expected outcomes, it may affect other areas in the project. A change in scope, for example, will almost always impact the project cost, as well as the reduction in the time for delivery of a product, and, therefore, it may negatively affect its quality. These kinds of effects are known as impacts in the Triple Restriction.

Stakeholders with varying expectations and needs: The stakeholders have different interests in a project’s development, as well as different needs and expectations. A stakeholder’s expectation is usually subjective and often difficult to meet, since every individual has different levels of values. This is why it is important, from stage one in the project, to make things very clear with the stakeholders, correctly defining their requirements, so that their expectations will become identified and real needs. Wrong or incomplete requirements remain at the top of all statistics as the main source of project failure.

Planning, control, and organization of the activities making up the project: It is absolutely necessary to carry out follow-up and control of the project during its execution. It sounds too obvious, but there are many organizations that have never drawn a plan and, in some cases, companies hold this unfortunate mentality that “making a plan is unnecessary extra work.” On the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to exaggerate in planning a project if it does not require such planning. Planning must always be proportionate to the size of the project and, above all, to its complexity.

5.1 Advantages and Success Factors of Project Management

It could be said that a successful project is one that has been developed within the expectations of time, cost and scope, with satisfactory product quality. In addition, the client should feel satisfied with the work done and/or the product/service delivered.

While planning is key, it is not enough to achieve good results. In order to succeed in the results set by the organization, it is also indispensable to rely on the following:

– Correct, complete and up-to-date information so as to be able to adequately plan, execute and control a project.

– Effective, accurate communication distributed to the right people within the appropriate time frame.

– The commitment of those involved to do things right, avoiding conflict and working in synergy.

The following are some of the remarkable benefits that project management can contribute:

– Reducing the development cycle

– Cost reduction

– More effective decisions

– Less improvisation

– Meeting deadlines

– Anticipating issues

– Creating a quality product/service

– Effective communication

– Decreased stress

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Figure 2: Benefits of Project Management

Source: Shutterstock

There are a few basic rules that can minimize the risk for a project’s degradation or outright failure:

Have clearly defined objectives: Including the team’s commitment to achieve all the set goals.

A project requires planning: Likewise, it’s indispensable to carry out project control during its execution.

Rely on a competent project manager: A professional who performs this role must have all the skills inherent to his/her position.

Support from the executive: It’s very important for the organization’s executive to be aware of the importance of the project and to provide all the necessary means to ensure its successful development.

A competent project team: A well-planned screening process and investing in training are key factors for a well-developed project, since its success depends on the good work of the team.

Sufficient resource availability: If there is a factor that can ruin a project, that’s the lack of resources—whether financial, personnel, or equipment. Before starting, a project manager needs to make sure that the necessary resources to carry out the project are available. In any event, it will always be necessary to bear in mind that project management is the art of managing scarce resources.

Adequate communication channels: Information is one of the key factors for success. It must flow in a controlled fashion to reach the right people at the right time. According to the library, 90 percent of what a project manager does is of a communicational nature.

Control mechanisms: A project cannot undergo too many deviations that would modify the structure of the original plan. The project manager must rely on mechanisms and instruments that will allow her/him to keep the project within the established base line. If any changes are made, these must be necessary, under control and resulting from consensus.

Ongoing feedback: All those involved in the project need to exchange views, suggestions, experiences and any other information that will help the project to move forward. Follow-up meetings and report development must be part of a project’s routine activities.

Immediate response to the client: Keeping the consumer always informed is key, even if the news are not good. The client can be a great ally, but he can become a strong obstacle just as easily. It will all depend on the relationship the project manager builds with him.

Mechanisms that make it possible to face problems: Every project needs a contingency plan or any other mechanism that will allow the team to react and apply the best response.

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