I recently had a very interesting conversation with a programme director of a large IT company based in the UK.

During the conversation, he asked me, “Why do Projects Fail?”, this is a question that I hear quite often, but before I gave my opinion, a little voice in my head said, “The question should be, why do we ALLOW projects to fail?”

I believe there is a subtle but important difference here. By asking the question, “why do projects fail?”, it allows us to believe that a project has a mind of its own and distance ourselves from the responsibility of failure.

When we ask, “Why do we allow projects to fail?” we immediately remind ourselves that we are responsible for the success or failure of that project.

If the project’s stakeholders are to take their responsibility seriously, then no project should start until all the stakeholders understand exactly why the project is needed and how they will benefit from it. They should also take some time to reflect on the lessons learned from previous projects.

However, to answer my own question, I believe that most projects fail because of a combination of  the items below, as identified in Bayard’s ‘Applied Project Management course’:

  1. The objective (the ‘why’) is not well defined.
  2. People lose sight of the objective.
  3. The objective is not supported by the stakeholders.
    • ‘Buy in’ is essential.
  4. Clear & measurable goals were not defined.
  5. Testing was not considered in line with requirements/goals.
    • How will we measure our results against our goals?
    • Upon delivery
    • At delivery
    • X months after delivery
  6. Resources are inaccurately estimated (out of budget &/or time).
  7. Resources are not sufficiently committed (engaged).
  8. Poor (inaccurate) status reporting.

My advice is to take your time to get a positive attitude right from the start, with everyone understanding exactly WHY the project is needed.

And when a project isn’t working, then stop it. It is much less costly to swallow ones’ pride than to continue with eyes wide shut.

Until next time.

Oliver.