The 12 Most Common Reasons Why Projects Fail

The 12 Most Common Reasons Why Projects Fail

Check your project against this checklist at any time during the project’s life.


1.    The goal of the project isn’t defined properly

To put it another way, it’s not clear to everybody (i.e. all of the stakeholders) when the project will be over.


2.    The goal of the project is defined properly, but then changes to it aren’t controlled

When changes occur on a project (e.g. increase in scope, loss of resources, assumption turns out not to be true, unexpected event), there are three ways you can deal with that change:

  • Say ‘this is a big change and so the plan must change’
  • Use contingency (assuming you have it)
  • Suck it up (put in extra work to deal with the change).

A healthy project – a project with proper change control – is where all three options are used, as appropriate. A project with no change control is one where only the third option is used.


3.    Not all of the project stakeholders are identified

So that as a result, some people don’t get what they were expecting from the project. Do enough of this and your failure is guaranteed.


4.    Stakeholders are identified but win-conditions aren’t

Win-conditions are what the stakeholders are hoping to get from the project. If you don’t know what they want, the chances of you giving it to them are fairly slim.


5.    The project isn’t planned / estimated properly

If you want to learn good estimation, it’s here


6.    The project isn’t led properly

There is either no project leader, more than one leader or the leader doesn’t do what they’re meant to do. If you want to know what the leader should do, check out John Wayne in this 1948 movie


7.    The project is planned / estimated properly but then it isn’t resourced as was planned

Need we say more? If there aren’t people to do the work, the work doesn’t get done.


8.    The project is planned such that it has no contingency

Have you ever worked on a project where nothing unexpected happened? Me neither.


9.    The expectations of stakeholders aren’t managed properly

For example, we commit to something that we know is impossible, because of pressure from the stakeholders. More generally, we lead the stakeholders to believe that their win-conditions will be met when, in fact, this isn’t so.


10. The project is planned properly but then progress against the plan is not monitored and controlled properly

Proper monitoring and control is here


11. Project reporting is inadequate or non-existent

Reporting is here


12. When projects get in to trouble, people believe the problem can be solved by some simple action e.g. work harder, extend the deadline, add more resources, or when you’re in a hole, stop digging

When a project gets into trouble, it’s highly likely that the problem is with the plan for the project, rather than its execution. Instead of continuing to execute a bad plan, the project probably needs to be re-planned.