When Projects Fall Short of Expectations: 7 Common Causes of Project Failure

Managing a project from start to end can be challenging work, requiring consistent diligence, and attention. And when you put in the work, you naturally expect the project to succeed. However, projects can fail, despite all your best efforts.

Did you know 75% of business and IT executives expect their projects to fail and believe they’re doomed from the start? One in six projects has an average cost overrun of 200% and 70% schedule overrun.

So what can you do to minimize project failure? Start by learning why projects fail and how you can avoid the same issues in your work.

When to Consider a Project a Failure

First things first, what does a failed project look like? A project could be considered a failure for the following reasons:

  • The project didn’t meet your objectives.
  • You didn’t get the deliverable you wanted.
  • The team didn’t complete the work on time.

However, it’s important to note that failure is subjective. In some cases, a project may be termed “failed” mainly because it went over budget or took more time than planned, but it may still achieve significant results. So before you term a project as a failure, let the stakeholders decide if it failed or succeeded based on their judgment and satisfaction with the outcome.

7 Reasons why Projects Fail and How to Avoid it

Projects fail for several reasons, and the good news is that you can address each obstacle and make your next project (and all other future ones) successful.

1. Lack of resource planning

Failure to plan your resources is a common reason for project failure. Resource planning involves identifying, scheduling, and allocating resources to optimize time and budgets and keep projects on track without overbooking them. A project manager must be able to anticipate the resource needs for their projects. Research shows that 23% of projects fail due to inadequate resource forecasting. Insufficient resources can affect project execution and delivery.

How to prevent it: Make a resource management plan in advance

Before starting your project, prepare a resource management plan that provides direction on how many and how long you need project resources. The plan should list the resources currently at hand and their availability. You can use project management software to keep track of your resources and ensure you allocate and manage them effectively.

2. Unclear goals and objectives

Never get started on a project without clear project objectives and goals. After all, it’s impossible to know if you’ve succeeded when you aren’t entirely sure what you’re trying to accomplish. Each project must meet a specific objective, and if this objective isn’t clearly defined at the start of the project or changes along the way, it will be challenging for your team to achieve it.

How to prevent it: Establish SMART goals

Before you start your project, establish precisely what the objective of your project is by using the SMART method (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, and Time-bound). With your SMART goals in place, your team will know which direction to go and what to do to achieve the goals set. Once team members know where they’re going, they’ll be more motivated and involved in the project.

3. Unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic expectations have destroyed many projects. In most cases, project managers set unrealistic cost and time expectations that their teams cannot achieve. A study conducted by KPMG showed that 70% of the failed projects have a deadline of less than a year.

How to prevent it: Set realistic expectations

As a project manager, it’s essential to understand what your team can accomplish and in what time frame. And while setting your expectations, make sure that you have a buffer that gives you the autonomy to complete the project without rushing through it. This buffer will reduce your team’s workload and allow them to focus on each task. When you set realistic expectations and explain them to all the project stakeholders, your team has a much better chance at completing the project successfully.

4. Communication gaps

It should go without saying, but communication in project management is critical. Inadequate or poor communication is a leading cause of project failure, and as a study by Spike Cavell revealed, 57% of projects failed due to poor communication.

How to prevent it: Have a dedicated communication tool

Pick a communication tool that makes it easy for team members to communicate. Make sure that you explain and implement your tool of choice from the outset of your project. In addition to an effective communication tool, create an environment where everyone feels free to come forward to express their concern or give suggestions. When there’s effective communication, everyone is on the same page, and the project has transparency allowing work to flow at an optimum level.

5. Scope creep

In most cases, it all starts innocently. You get a client request to add an item, or a team member comes up with a brilliant idea, and you add it to the project tasks. Before you know it, your project scope has exceeded the initial one, and your team is now over-extended. This is known as scope creep. The problem with scope creep is that often than not, you haven’t budgeted the time or resources necessary to complete the extra tasks, leading to budget and time overruns.

How to prevent it: Define your project scope before you begin

Define your scope in advance.With a proper scope set in advance, you can plan your resources before the project starts. This way, last-minute tasks won’t overwhelm your team. A well-defined scope highlights all the stakeholders’ requirements and enables your team members to understand what they must do. It also sets a clear direction and objective for them to achieve.

6. Not paying attention to risks

When a project is on the verge of failing, warning signs will appear. The problem is that some project managers don’t have a proper way of collecting data that points to these warning signs. Without knowing the risks, you won’t be able to take immediate action to save the project, so the whole endeavor goes down the drain.

How to prevent it: Have a risk management plan

Set up a risk management plan from the start so that you’re always prepared to face any problems that may arise during the project. Your risk management plan should identify all the potential risks and outline preventive and corrective actions to implement if they appear.

7. Inexperienced project managers

Managing projects is a great responsibility, and to handle it successfully, you need capable and experienced project managers on board. However, according to PMI’s Pulse of the Profession report, inexperienced project managers are among the primary causes of project failure.

How to prevent it: Get certified

It’s obvious—work with certified, experienced project managers. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers Insights and trends report, 80% of successful projects are supervised by certified project managers. The proof is in in the pudding!

Your Turn

Nobody likes a failed project. Successful projects are critical for business success.. Being aware of these common pitfalls will help you reduce your own risk of project failure. Additional using a credible, feature rich Project Management platform like Mission Control, can help you forecast and manage risks before they become issues.