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As managers, we have experienced project failure in some shape or form. It can come from working on a project you know should have not have passed through the governance body and now you have no choice but to lead, or it can be a project that has incredible potential but no one is on board.

Below is a list compiled of what my colleagues/mentors and I consider as signs of project failure. This list coincides with what can be found on  Companies Management blog

  1. Project Manager work on the project because it's their job (and not doing so could result in losing their job or upsetting the leadership team).
  2. Client expectations are not realistic and cannot be met.
  3. Client keeps changing the project requirements/scope.
  4. Wrong resources assigned to the project/tasks.
  5. Poor or Lack of Communication with the client, stakeholders, etc.
  6. Lack of involvement from stakeholders.
  7. Poor planning - planning is to rigid and doesn't give space to handle any issues/risks. Planning is solely done by project managers.
  8. Absence of Risk Management
  9. Management works to make senior management/director/VP's happy.
  10. Project is based on CXO's dream.

Feel free to comment from your own experience what you think is the reason why projects fail.


Direct copy from my blog

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Comment by Safinaaz Rawji on June 6, 2010 at 1:30pm
Awesome input Judith!
Yes, being a PM means having the ability to not just manage the project but have the ability to lead the heard of cats successfully to your destination. I too have seen PMs try to become buddies with their team members thinking it will help in the production of the project and overall communication, but it backfired when the they don't know how to press on them if they are behind schedule.
The PM definitely needs to have a thick skin, guts, and a strong backbone to lead their team and hold them accountable.
Comment by Judith on June 6, 2010 at 1:11pm
Excellent list. I would also add two others to the list.
1. Lack of PM leadership skills. If the PM cannot lead the team throughout the project, it will fail. Teams need direction, motivation, encouragement, and clear communication throughout the life of the project, not just at the begginging of the project.
2. Accountability. I think this is huge. You have to hold the team accountable for their share of the work, which includes doing the work on time, or reporting status on time. I have personally seen this, where the PM just wanted to be the 'buddy' of the team and therefore cut them some slack, which delayed parts of the project, or the job was done 'half a**". You have to be friendly, but you do not have to be their friend. It is a tough position and one that requires a thick skin.
Comment by Tony Askew on June 6, 2010 at 9:02am
Off to become a Scrum Master??? Woo hoo!!!

The BEST decision I've made in my career was the choice to become Agile. Looking back I do not know how I survived using PMBOK developed, and waterfall methodologies.

Being the field of IT and healthcare, Agile hands down makes the most sense.

Good luck!
Comment by Victor Tam on June 5, 2010 at 10:33pm
For whatever this is worth, how about unrelastic expectations or goals from the stakeholders (owners).

Quite often, the proejct schedule, resources and costs are articifically adjusted to enable project sanctioned with the owner's board of director for funding approval. During project sanction, everyone wants the project approved and puts on their rose colour glass (i.e. overlook of realistic risk management and mitigation mechanisms) with the intention to "catch-up" should anything goes wrong which often does and hence risk management. Getting off the starting point with unrelastic project demands sets the proejct up for trouble. For example, if project is behind schedule, resoruces are diverted from the project team to play catch-up which puts the project further behind as it is also cost constraned.
Comment by Safinaaz Rawji on June 3, 2010 at 2:06pm
Wow, these are great points everyone!
I almost feel like we need to change the title to 20 Signs of Project Failure.

Marianne, Great Point! I tend to take the value management approach in project management so I have had new requirements creep up on me. Challenge is to re-mold the scope/definition and like you mentioned, make sure the project meets the customer's needs and can be delivered within the cost (time, budget, etc).

Ubaid, Quality is one thing I have noticed that tends to take a back seat when it comes to project deliverables. I think this tends to be because of the unrealistic budget (which is very common in our current economic situation) our clients provides us.

Gurpreet, Farhat and Milon, Great Points! Project Manager's need to make sure their documents (Specification Documents, Functional Documents, System Design Documents, etc) should be clear, understandable, consistent and also verified by not just their team members but also their clients.
Comment by Marianne Mowery on June 3, 2010 at 1:41pm
Requirements Creep is also a key reason for failure. If the PM uses a value management approach and assesses each new requirement against the agreed to set of goals, it will help to ensure the project meets the customer's needs
Comment by Ubaid S Quraishi on June 3, 2010 at 5:36am
Very True. Absence of Risk Management, I believe is the main contributor to a project failure. The second in line is the lack of communication and improper coordination between the project teams. I want to add some more points to the list; lack of inbuilt culture for Quality and Safety; lack of proper reporting systems; lack of procedures and processes in place; and last but not the least is the tight budget.
Comment by farhat rauf on June 1, 2010 at 2:39pm
Poorly defined scope.....poor intial estimates too are among the biggest reasons!!! (Have a personal experience of it)

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