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Top 5 Project Failure Reasons, or Why My Project Fails

Eric McConnell
September 1, 2010
11,374 views

Learn to avoid failure and be successful

project failure reasonsProject failure is when you do not get what you expect at the end of your project. It is a terrible situation when you cannot say anything about the received results as these results do not meet requirements of the project customer and sponsor. Let’s try to investigate in this article why most projects fail and what are the top reasons for project failure.

Since my first attempt to participate in IT and software development projects, I learned a variety of project failure reasons that made my projects stop because of the lack of finances, no requirements met, poor quality, no collaboration, no focus on teamwork, etc. In my previous article “Project Success Tips” I wrote how to make your project successful and how to accomplish it, through following a series of tips. Today I am going to write about errors and missteps that I made when managing my IT projects. Hope, my explanations will help you do your projects without failure.

Failure Definition

First, let’s define the phrase “project failure“. Here is how I define it:

Project failure is a situation when a given project, which consumes human, material and financial resources, fails to deliver an acceptable Return on Investment (ROI), so it is terminated before the completion, no sufficient value is produced, and no benefit is delivered to the customer. This project is considered “failed” when it does not produce results in an expected way, exceeds its budget and time, and does not meet specifications.

Failure Criteria

Following this definition of project failure, I can conclude that a project fails when it does not meet the following criteria:

  • It is delivered out of schedule (time constraint)
  • It is delivered out of budget (cost constraint)
  • It is delivered out of scope (scope constraint)
  • The product does not work as expected.

Before writing this article, I surfed multiple websites to examine project failure statistics and review project failure examples. I also looked through my own projects trying to ensure that if a project does not meet any of the criteria it fails. My investigation has shown me that most projects, including my own ones, failed because one or several of the listed criteria were not met.

So what are the project failure factors? What makes my projects fail and what can I do to avoid failure in the future? Let’s list common causes of project disaster.

Top 5 Causes of Project Failure

#1. Lack of Customer Involvement

This is the primary reason for project failure. When you do a project and the customer does not participate in it, the project is doomed to fail. Without user involvement you cannot feel committed to the product, your team becomes “hostile” to project expectations, and the development process turns into a blindly managed process when user requirements are not met.

To avoid this reason of project failure, senior management needs to establish a working environment in which the customer can actively participate in the project and communicate with the team. Then, project expectations will be clear and right priorities will be set up.

#2. Poor Requirements Set

Project failure due to poor requirements management takes place when the project team delivers the product without having a clear understanding of what the customer wants and without having any real knowledge of the requirements. When the product is produced, the customer does not like it because the requirements have not been met, and this becomes one of the reasons for project failure. Poorly set requirements and lack of requirements understanding are closely linked to lack of customer involvement.

As a project manager who cares for meeting customer requirements, you should be ready to handle project failure rate by working on preparing meetings and workshops for your team and actively involving the customer in the project.

#3. Scope Creep

The next of the top project failure reasons refers to a situation when project scope does not correlate with other constraints. For example, when the scope of your project increases while the rest constraints (like time and cost) do not change, the project is likely to be delivered over-budgeted and delayed. Then the customer may not access the product so the project gets failed. To avoid this cause of project failure you need to adequately correlate the project scope with other constraints.

#4. No Change Control System

IT project failure happens when a project manager cannot effectively respond to changes occurred in the project. A change may create a new condition within your project, and if no change control system is introduced, your team will fail to respond to the new condition. Uncontrolled changes will cause project failure, so your primary task is to create a document flow for change requests and implement a system to exchange and process change requests.

#5. Poor Testing

IT project failure is often caused by lack of testing resources. While software developers focus on creating code, they do not deal with testing. Testers are those who should do “testing” during the development process. Often lack of testers and their poor skills and knowledge will make an IT project unacceptable because acceptance tests to see whether the product meets the business requirements are not run.

Poor testing may be caused by poor requirements set, lack of change control, inadequately trained staff, lack of time for performing testing. As a project manager you must prevent these project failure causes in order to build an acceptable product for your customer.

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