Why Projects Fail

The management and implementation of projects can span across multiple industries and disciplines, utilising different frameworks and methodologies to achieve success. The diversity of projects, their timelines, number of teams and stakeholders’ involved, available budget and project leadership are all areas which have the potential to cause or contribute to project failure.

According to the PMI’s ‘Pulse of the Profession’ report, organisations are wasting an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested, due to poor project performance. Which despite being a large figure, is actually a 20% decline from last year.

Looking at the IT industry in particular, a report from The Standish Group on project failure shows that 31.1% of software development projects will be cancelled before they ever get completed. In addition, 52.7% of projects will cost 189% of their original estimates.

While many organisations are making significant progress with the implementation of projects, there are some key reasons why projects fail that are common across industry and regardless of the methodology used. Here we look at just some of the reasons why projects fail and how they can be prevented.

Lack of senior management engagement

Project management often goes hand in hand with strategic planning which is traditionally led by senior management. The ‘profitability gap’ occurs when there is a lack of communication between those who are formulating the overall business strategy and those who are actually charged with implementing it.

An Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report published at the end of last year found that 61% of companies often struggle to bridge the gap between project management strategy formulation and implementation, and that only 56% of strategic initiatives that companies put together are successful.

To maintain engagement, the ‘final approver’ of the project should be kept up to date throughout the development and execution of the project, particularly for larger scale or for long-term deliveries. Regular reporting to senior management at all stages of the project can also help ensure that projects retain their original goals and align with overall company strategy.

Establishing key checkpoints for feedback will help ensure on time delivery to the original specs agreed.

Insufficient communication

As we have touched on above, communication is key to project success and should be conducted across all stakeholders involved in a project. Communication should not be purely top to bottom, by ensuring constant feedback and the setting of realistic deadlines, any problems arising can be quickly resolved.

Everyone should have a clear understanding of what is required, when it is to be delivered, the ultimate project objectives and how it aligns with overall strategy. Failure to establish these lines of communication and setting the expectations of the project can lead to slippage in timelines, quality or budget.

Even if they’re well established at the start, if communications break down at any point, the reactiveness of decisions and quality of delivery can suffer. A Project Manager has the ultimate responsibility to maintain the standard of communication and encourage stakeholder engagement throughout the project.

Leadership

As we have established, communication and information management is a key driver of project success. With so many stakeholders involved in project delivery, having a competent leader, able to manage a project team and coordinate a project against wider strategic goals, is vital.

Of all the variables that contribute to the success or failure of projects, the one that is most neglected, and therefore in need of the most attention, is the project team itself. Depending on the nature of the project, managers with a highly technical background can lack the necessary leadership qualities needed, particularly on larger scale or highly complex project deliveries.

“A project leader must inspire, motivate, negotiate and communicate. These behaviours are typically prominent in less technical people and less technical professions. Therefore, a new breed of project manager needs to emerge within the industry – the highly driven project leader.”

Craig Stephens, vice president of international consulting at Epicor.

Alongside bringing direction and expert knowledge to a project, leaders should bring clear project vision to all those involved. Constructive and clear feedback on individual and team performance can help maintain focus and support effective delegation of tasks on larger projects.

Our part-time MSc Project Management recognises the importance of people in project management with a whole module dedicated to effective team dynamics, management and organisational behaviour, all of which influence project teams. Exploring leadership issues, the programme’s modular content also focuses on communication and analysing organisational practice models and frameworks which underpin management.

Contact our team today to find out more about our offering and how you can continue to study whilst you work with our weekend classroom delivery. Also available as a full-time one year programme and with Advanced Practice.

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