Although most projects are the result of strenuous efforts by team members, some of them nevertheless do fail. The reasons for this failure are multiple, and each individual project can fail for different reasons or a combination of those. The Standish Group has discovered that among US IT projects, for instance, only about one-sixth of all projects were completed on time and within budget, nearly one third of all projects were cancelled outright, and well over half were considered “challenged” (May, 1998). An in-depth exploration of the causes for which projects can end with failure is critical to the prevention of such failures and ensuring the success of the enterprise.
Possible Causes of Project Failure and Their Impacts
- One of the main reasons why the results of projects are considered unsuccessful is the flaw in the initial planning that fails to establish the critical link between the overall organisational strategy and the goals of a specific project (OGC, n.d.). Therefore, even the project does achieve its goals, this accomplishment will not contribute to the success of the organisation as a whole, and therefore the project will only be a waste of time.
- Sometimes the project will suffer because the final aim is unclear even if it is linked to the organisational strategy. This problem can be called “a lack of clearly defined objectives” (IT Management, 2005). If the objectives are unclear, the project will hardly achieve any conclusive results because the whole action lacks coordination and orientation from the start. Members of the project team can all have different ideas about where they want to get in the end, and this will make their actions lack consistency.
- Another common reason is poor organisation that fails to establish direct links between different members of the team and map out an effective communication network. This leaves managers “permeating through the chaos”, as if groping in the dark for the correct strategy, trying to understand who is doing what in the project (Opausky, 2002). Under such circumstances, it is natural that a lot of time is spent on actions that are unnecessary and only lead to a waste of time.
- Careful planning is also a critical step in project management, and if the manager does not supply the organisation with a workable plan, the project may fail simply because no one knows exactly what to do. If the estimates of work hours and resources are not done correctly, the result can be hidden costs that will surface later on. This problem can be defined as poor planning or “Poor Cost and Schedule Estimation” (Rosenfield, n.d.).
- Apart from problems that stem from deficient or incomplete planning, there can be problems that arise in the course of the project implementation. For example, the project can be adversely impacted by inadequate resources. This problem is caused by either incorrect estimation or incomplete staffing. Sometimes, a project will “have enough bodies” but lack “people with the right skill mix” (Mochal, 2005).
- Another issue can be loosely labelled as staff problems. Since projects are powered by employee teams, they are subject to the same conflicts and issues as routine assignments. Especially when a project experiences problems, employees “start to work longer hours, feel more stress, get more edgy and have more personality conflicts” (Mochal, 2005). This reduces the cooperation between team members and can jeopardise the achievement of objectives.
Recognizing and Overcoming Problems
It is necessary to establish direct correspondence between the organisation’s mission and goals and project objectives. The project manager needs to ask oneself the question: “How does this project connect to the overall organisational strategy and how will its accomplishment further its goals?” If the project fails to meet these needs, it can be discarded from the start.
To ensure that these objectives are properly defined, it is feasible to introduce “agreed measures of success” (OGC, n.d.). If there is a suspicion that objectives are not defined clearly, one needs to see if there exist numerical or agreed upon qualitative measurements of the project’s success.
Testing for the level of organisation in the project can be done as an attempt to allow each team member to define his or her functions within the project, as well as those of other members. If this proves difficult, it is obvious that most people are not sure whom to address to solve a specific problem. Besides, “Poor or no stakeholder communication on a regular [at least monthly] is a potential sign of failure” (Thomsett, 2002). To correct this problem, the manager can map out each individual’s functions in the project and specifically define each person’s functions and accountability. Communication can also be improved through introduction of regular meetings and/or online communication.
“Lack of project plan and Business Case updates” as well as associated plans is a serious symptom of possible project failure (Thomsett, 2002). Managers willing to avoid planning problems have to prepare a plan that is as detailed as possible. If this was not done at the onset, it may be a good move to prepare a plan that outlines actions from the current time point.
The discovery of hidden costs that have not been budgeted into preliminary estimates is a sign the resources have not been allocated correctly, as is the revelation that some types of work will take more labor hours. To avoid this problem, the management can use “several estimation tools on the market” to detail the expected outlays (May, 2005). If tools prove unavailable, an analysis of similar projects can help. Finally, it makes sense to allocate a certain fund for contingencies at the start.
Staff problems are easily identifiable as “high staff turnover” and “aggressive and defensive behaviour” (Thomsett, 2002). Besides, a well-managed project should result in team members enjoying the success of their work, while in a poorly managed one, doomed for failure, employees have “no fun” (Thomsett, 2002). To keep cooperation between team members in good shape, a project manager has to ensure that pressure put on people in the project is not excessive. If people work 60 hours a week, frustration and stress are to be expected. Team members have to get a chance to balance their involvement with the project with their personal life. In addition, the manager needs to ensure an effective system of rewards for performance that will stimulate group work and promote cooperation. Rewarding for group rather than individual results will stimulate the group to cooperate rather than quarrel. Individual conflicts have to be sorted out using conflict management skills.
Managing projects is an art as much as a science and requires the manager to recognize and balance many different issues. At the same time, the basic causes that prevent a project’s success are recurrent and thus have to be identified via analysis of the project’s strategy and organisation. It is hard to overestimate the importance of planning in ensuring the success of the project; however, organisation during the implementation stage also matters. Timely identification of possible problems will be a serious help to the project manager, allowing him or her to take action at the right time, addressing future concerns. Monitoring factors that can dampen success of the project is therefore an important part of the project manager’s work.
Betts. M. (2003, August 25). Why IT projects fail: There’s a difference between managing risk and preventing failure. ComputerWorld.
IT Management. (2005, March 24). Why do projects fail? Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.microscope.co.uk/Article137463.htm
May, L.J. (2005). Major Causes of Software Project Failures. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.stsc.hill.af.mil/crosstalk/1998/07/causes.asp
Mochal, T. (2005, June 28). Avoid these common causes for project failure. Tech Republic. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878-5760615.html
Office of Government Commerce (UK) (OGC). (n.d.). Common Causes of Project Failure.
Opausky, M. (2002). Why Do Projects Fail? A Lean Examination. International Institute for Learning, Inc.Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.allpm.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=395
Rosenfeld, E. After all this…. Why Do Projects Fail? Retrieved April 23, 2006, from Adaptive Consulting Partners, LLC website at: http://www.adaptivepartners.com/projfailb.htm
Thomsett, R. (2002). Project Pathology: Causes, patterns and symptoms of project failure. Retrieved April 23, 2006, from http://www.thomsett.com.au/main/articles/path/toc.htm
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