Why do too many projects fail to deliver their objectives even though project management best practices appear to be used? Evidently the use of project management best practices does not guarantee project success nor does their absence guarantee project failure.
Success is never final and failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts. – George Tilton
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: organisations don’t know how to manage change and organisations don’t know what they should be doing. That is, there is no clear strategy. Project management is concerned with the first cause only.
Whilst there is no single overriding factor that causes project failure, project success is usually determined 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 an information technology element) run into difficulties. The 3 reasons why projects fail can be summarised as follows
- An inconsistent approach to project management leading to confusion over what the project is expected to achieve
- The key project roles are not sufficiently articulated resulting in a lack of direction or poor decision making
- Appropriate expertise is not employed in projects resulting in products being delivered that are not fit for purpose or 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 are your projects doing?
- 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―see How to Prepare a Project Plan article
- A weak business case
- Ineffective top management involvement and/ or support, i.e. timely decision-making―see How to Engage Stakeholders
Notably, technical complexity is not among the main reasons for project failure; all the reasons are related to project management practice. What’s more, project management is often said to be valuable to the organisation whilst at the same time project management is often poorly applied.
Over the coming weeks I aim to discuss each reason for project failure in turn. I will then go on to describe how a project management process framework can help the organisation improve its project management capability over time.
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How would you describe project failure? Please join the discussion.
Image: Richard Masoner.