3 Reasons for Project Failure

Feb 27, 2021 2 min read
3 Reasons for Project Failure

Why do projects fail to deliver their objectives even though best practices appear to be used? This post summarizes the 3 main reasons for project failure.

Why do too many projects fail to deliver their objectives even though project management best practices seem to be used? Evidently, the use of project management best practices does not guarantee project success, nor does their absence guarantee project failure.

There is much research on project success and failure and the relationship between project management and project success. It usually comes down to two things:

  • Organizations don’t know how to manage change, and
  • Organizations don’t know what they should be doing.

In other words, there is no clear approach to strategy. Project management targets the first cause only.

Project Failure

Whilst there is no single overriding factor that causes project failure, we usually determine project success by keeping the following characteristics in balance

  • Completeness of the planned deliverables (scope)
  • Delivery according to the planned schedule (time)
  • Meeting of financial objectives (cost)

Yet, I often see business change projects (especially those containing Information Technology) run into difficulties. The 3 common reasons why projects fail can be summarized as follows:

  1. An inconsistent approach to project management, leading to confusion over the expected outcomes.
  2. Poorly defined project roles, resulting in a lack of direction or poor decision-making.
  3. Failing to employ the correct expertise, resulting in products that are not fit for purpose and incur additional expense to correct or replace.

Whilst many projects seem to be successful, we rarely find one that has truly met all the success characteristics described above. Go on, answer the following questions. How well have your projects done?

  • Did the project meet its business objectives?
  • Did it deliver on time?
  • And within budget?
  • Were all the quality criteria met?
  • Was the customer satisfied with the end product?
  • Is it used?
  • Was change during the project managed well?

Most likely, you could not answer ‘yes’ to all the questions. Through my research, I have identified the three most common reasons for failure (that is, not meeting all the success characteristics.) These are:

  • Poor project planning
  • A weak business case
  • Ineffective top management involvement and support

Notably, technical complexity is not among the main reasons projects fail; all the reasons are related to project management practice. What’s more, while many organizations say they value project management, it is often poorly applied.

In other posts, I discuss each reason for project failure in turn and also go on to describe how a project management process framework can help the organization improve project management process maturity over time.


Can you think of other reasons for project failure? You are welcome to tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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