Hello and welcome back to our project management series. Hope you had great time reading through our latest articles on professional ethics and practices of a project manager. Just in case you missed it, here are the links:

Professional Practices and Ethics of a Project Manager
Professional Practices and Ethics of a Project Manager, part 2

In this post, we will analyze the seven primary reasons for project failure.

According to Bryce, “Project management is first and foremost a philosophy of management, not an elaborate set of tools and techniques. It will only be as effective as the people who use it.” This simply means that the application of project management tools and techniques does not necessarily guarantee the success of a project, but success is guaranteed by the proper integration of interrelated factors such as the mode of application and the character of the project manager.

So what is a failed project? A project is said to have failed when it is not delivered on time or on budget or when the product does not meet the required specification. A project with any or all of the criteria mentioned above can be referred to as a failed project.

Although there are many factors that could result in project failure, here are the seven primary reasons for project failure.

  1. Lack of project management practice in organization
  2. Improper stakeholder management
  3. Not involving project manager from the beginning of the project
  4. Scope creep
  5. Unrealistic project deadlines
  6. Lack of change control system
  7. Poor definition of project objectives

Get ready as we begin analyzing them one after the other.

1. Lack of project management practice in an organization. Some of you are already wondering if there are organizations that carry out projects without using project management principles. The simple answer is a capital YES. Actually, there are more organizations that implement projects without any project management techniques than these who do. This might be good, since it means that there are still lots of job out there for us as project managers (hahahaha).

It is not uncommon to find project-based organizations that have no standard project management procedures. These organizations often use informal and inconsistent approaches, leading to mixed results. This makes it difficult to link the cause of the success or failure of the project to a procedure. Since the redundant process cannot be easily identified, it becomes difficult to improve the organization’s overall efficiency, which might lead to project failure.

Some organizations, however, want good project management but are not committed to the project. They hire employees without experience and do not take action in backing up their words. Proper understanding and implementation of the project management plan is therefore necessary in order to prevent project from failing.

2. Improper stakeholder management. The importance of effective stakeholder management in a project cannot be overemphasized. A stakeholder is seen as anyone who has an interest in a project or any entity that would be affected by the outcome of the project. It is important to note that the consumer is always the most important stakeholder and any argument during stakeholder management should always be resolved in favor of the consumer.

It is, however, important to carry out a detailed stakeholder analysis before a project begins by understanding how powerful a project stakeholder and the level of influence that stakeholder has in a project. For example, a project stakeholder with a lot of influence can frustrate the success of a project when not in support. For example, the decisions of the CEO of a company who does not support a project can affect its success. Also, projects where the consumer was not taken into consideration before embarking on the project might lead to the creation of products not suitable for the consumer.

A detailed analysis on effective stakeholder management and the tools and technique required for a successful stakeholder management has been treated in one of our previous posts, which can be found here.

3. Late involvement of project manager. We often get commissions as project managers for projects that are halfway through the implementation phase. Sometimes, these projects never had a project managers and we cannot comprehend why projects of such magnitude would even begin without the involvement of a qualified project manager. Often, when we begin working on such a project, we spend more time trying to understand the existing situation and correcting the root cause of the errors, which leads to an extended schedule and cost.

Some organizations do not even understand the need for a project manager and thus they believe the work of a project manager is overhyped. These types of projects often run into preventable trouble. It is important for organizations, especially project-based organizations, to realize that the position of a project manager is not just another administrative function but to organize and coordinate resources in order to achieve the project and organizational goal

4. Scope creep. I am sure by now some of us are beginning to wonder why we have not yet discussed scope creep, as this is probably the singular most important cause of project failure. When the senior management is in support of a project, there is relevant project management procedure, an experienced project manager has been commissioned, there are reasonable baselines and a clear project charter, we think we have it all covered but sometimes our project fails; the most likely reason is scope creep.

Scope creep is a result of uncontrolled or continuous changes in the project scope. These changes often happen in a subtle way, where a project stakeholder asks for increased (most times little) functionality in the project. While changes are inevitable parts of a project, undocumented changes are the primary cause of scope creep. Scope creep generally leads to budget overrun, schedule overrun, or the output of the project being different from the original plan.

Proper documentation is one of the ways to avoid scope creep in projects. Here is a link to our previous article on how to control and manage scope creep.

5. Unrealistic project deadlines. This often comes in two forms. The most common one is dealing with deadlines that are inadequate, such as management wanting us to complete a four-month project in three weeks. Most times, when time becomes a big constrain, we begin to cut down on the project scope or quality to meet the almost impossible deadline. It is our duty as project managers to give adequate estimate of schedule when undertaking a project. In situations where projects are time-constrained, fast tracking and crashing should be considered first before revising the project scope.

The other perspective, however, involves projects with extremely long deadlines. As we all know, one of the characteristics of a project is “time-bound.” This means it has a defined time frame. When a project time frame becomes extremely long, then it should be broken down into smaller projects that are more manageable. This would make it easier to manage, giving the more realistic deadlines and thus reducing the probability of project failure.

6. Lack of change control system: As mentioned earlier, changes are bound to occur in a project. These changes could come in various forms, from the client, the management, consumers, the project manager, the government, or even from a member of the project team. When a change request is initiated, it is important to goes through a change control system before being implemented or rejected.

Since change is the only constant thing, the change control system helps to define the processes required before a change is implemented. That is, who are the members of the change control board, what factors are required to approve the request, what level of risk and uncertainty the change brings to the project, and if it is in line with the risk threshold of the organization. Although the project manager should always evaluate the impact of the change, the decision to implement the change should be an output of an effective change control system.

7. Poor definition of project objectives. It is improper to start a project without a project charter; however, even when we have a project charter, there is a probability of the project objectives being ambiguous. Project goals and objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and tangible (SMART). When goals are not SMART, it becomes difficult to measure if the result of the project meets the project objectives. Proper definition of project objectives helps in during quality assurance and audit process thus preventing project failure.


In this article we explored the seven primary causes of project failure, which were: Lack of project management practice in organization, improper stakeholder management, late involvement of project management, scope creep, unrealistic project deadlines, lack of a change control system, and poor definition of project objectives. It is, however, important to mention that this list is not exhaustive, as there are other factors that can lead to project failure. These are the most common causes of project failure, though.

Okay, guys, that’s all we have for today. Don’t forget to drop your thoughts and questions in the comments section. Also, if you have any area you are interested in learning about, please leave a comment and we will explore it with you. Thank you for reading. See you soon!