Why projects fail – the top seven challenges

Why projects fail

Successful strategy execution has a lot to do with project management capability and success. Those organisations with a successful history of Lean and/or Six Sigma initiatives are more likely to be successful with their strategy execution due to the capabilities developed in problem solving, ownership for solutions, and structured process around improvement.

This post looks at the seven common causes of project failure and what we can do about them.

Integrated Project Management and the PEX network recently surveyed a range of project management professionals. One of the questions addressed the common causes of failure. Here they are:

1) Lack of buy-in from senior leadership. It strikes me that this is cited as the cause for any major failure within a corporate environment. Leadership teams are plagued with a huge range of potential distractions and it’s easy to see why on-going support and perceived support is an issue. Having said that, more effective leadership teams are more focused and they know where effort should be expended. If the projects in question support the focus, the lack of buy-in problem becomes greatly diminished. So, part of the blame for lack of leadership buy-in falls squarely on the shoulders of the team initiating the project. The project has to prove direct support for the business strategy. If not, I wouldn’t support either.

2) Changing priorities. OK, we do live in a highly fluid world and change is a constant. However, although the concept of emergent strategy fits with this environment, success also lies in the ability to stick to a plan over a period of time and get it implemented. Yes, there’s a need for agility, however, if the environment changes to the extent that a major project needs to be canned or re-chartered, that’s not a project failure – it’s a change in circumstance. Projects closely aligned with the achievement of strategy are far less likely to suffer from the changing priorities problem.

3) Inadequate definition of goals for the project. This is essentially caused by poor project management. It’s well worth the time conducting inclusive chartering before launching a project so that key stakeholders have explored any conflicting priorities and interpretations. Small issues such as misunderstanding terminology used can mean two executives understanding a situation in very different ways.

4) Insufficient resources for the project. This is a tough one. If resources are an issue (and they almost always are), the suggestion is to drop those projects that are not top priorities. They can always be completed later. In my view, it’s far better to make dramatic progress on one project than very incremental progress on five. Successful completion of a project builds momentum and appetite for the next one.

5) Poor change management. Not all projects require change management, however, most strategic ones do. This reason combines with the 6th, which is poor project leadership. While there is a process element to project management, skilled project managers influence and achieve results through their change leadership skills. Sustainable project results and benefits depend on this substantially.

7) Inadequate or poor communication. This challenge is a very generic one that points to poor project leadership as well.

By ensuring tight alignment of projects with strategy, and that project leaders have change management skills, the probability of project failure is substantially reduced.

About the author

Originally from South Africa, my family and I have been in the UK for 15 years, so we’re used to the weather but have not forgotten how to barbecue! Most of my career has revolved around helping small fast growth companies to scale and i-nexus is no exception. I and the team at i-nexus, believe passionately in the power of Integrated Strategy Execution and in helping global customers to achieve their potential