What goes wrong with Projects

Why Projects ‘fail’: most common project issues

Every year organisations spend vast sums on initiatives typically described as ‘projects’.  Every year, there are countless examples of poor delivery performance or major disappointment with their outcome.

Results of asking the question literally hundreds of times:

PMIS has delivered project management training to leading companies for well over two decades.

Throughout this whole period, we ask ‘what goes wrong with projects‘ as a formal exercise at the start of all courses.

We have captured and aggregated participant’s answers (from well over 3000 people), providing two very interesting results :

  • the similarity of the responses to this question whenever it is asked. The responses seldom change;
  • the similarity of the results from across very different industries.

The top results as provided by the participants themselves are:

  1. Unclear goals and objectives
  2. Poor participation by users
  3. Scope creep
  4. Communication issues
  5. Unrealistic timelines
  6. Lack of cross-functional team working/planning
  7. Poor planning
  8. Lack of ownership/accountability
  9. Poor supplier performance/selection
  10. Lack of senior management engagement

What does this say?

Most notably that despite investment in recent years in project management ‘methods’ the above results have remained much the same.  This says something powerful, which we believe is:

  • investing in ‘methods’ is only one part of the solution and is rarely the most important;
  • the focus of many current PM methods leaves much to be desired – focusing on the ‘easy’ stuff;
  • too many Corporations and individuals are still light on skills to deliver projects successfully. In addition, many have thin or ineffective corporate Project Governance processes and capabilities.

Projects are challenging and probably always will be.  In business though, we constantly see examples where organisations make them much tougher than they need to be.

Joint Study by UK Royal Academy of Engineering & British Computer Society:

There are numerous surveys and a number of research tasks that have looked at exactly the same question.  One of the most commonly quoted is the Standish Chaos study, which also identifies the above as common challenges to projects.

There are others as well that match the above results completely. For example, a comprehensive report produced by the Royal Academy of Engineering in conjunction with the British Computer Society entitled the ‘The Management of Complex IT projects’, states:

  • The evidence received clearly and unanimously identified management factors and human, rather than technical issues as the prime causes of project failure.”

Realities of Projects ......
The above image is provided with the kind permission of Viki Sauter

All of the issues outlined above are the responsibility of the management function of the project. They are almost always the key management challenges on projects of any magnitude.  As corporations, we should ask ourselves: ‘are we prepared to recognise this (culturally) and able (i.e. skilled) to manage projects far more effectively?’

Why is this? Do we make projects harder than they need to be?

Why do we think this happens and more importantly, why do we think this recurs on a regular basis?

PMIS believes a lot has to do with:

  • many individuals who take on the management of a project for the first time underestimate the task they are taking ‘responsibility for, creating a very steep learning curve. Add this to the most important phase of every project (i.e. definition), and the prospects of success are likely to be challenged before the project even gets off the ground;
  • often people only assume the role of project manager on an occasional basis throughout their whole careers. By the time they manage their next project the scars of the last one (and the methods they were encouraged to employ) are long forgotten. This is especially true for internal / business projects;
  • too many ‘professional’ project managers still do not routinely employ the fundamentals of project management;
  • as organisations, still, we are often a long way from recognising the likely impact of the above.

One other challenge: poor preparation for PMs

We often encounter people who have just been given the title ‘project manager’ in similar circumstances to those described immediately above, often for the first time in their careers.  One reaction, which is not uncommon, as you describe to them the fullness of their responsibilities, is to see them literally sink at the thought of what they have let themselves in for.   This reaction is often a reflection of the poor quality process for choosing them as project managers within their organisations and the lack of support and preparation they get for this often challenging role.

Too many organisations today employ no real ‘science’ in the selection of project managers and too often they do not make very clear to those selected, what they actually expect from them.

So, what are the best solutions to the above?

There are no magic bullets like simply buying a new piece of software and all of the above goes away, but there are some practices and approaches, such as Agile that focus on communication for example. If you read our page on Agile and come back and re-read the list of “top results” of “what goes wrong” on this page, it can provide lots of food for thought for many businesses.



Email us today to see how we can help you.

Related Pages:

Click here for full details of Project Management Training Courses from PMIS.

Share this:

Leave a Comment

Contact Us Now

EMAIL us today.

Or call ++44 (0)1865 784040

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email to subscribe to our blog and get notifications of new posts by email. (We don't SPAM - ever.)