Top 10 Main Causes of Project Failure


Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it, Charles R. Swindoll. You agree? When you want to step up your game in project management, there’re a lot of tips, resources, and guidelines. There’s an endless selection of how to lead better, communicate better or simply just be better.

However, when examining the flip-side, failure, we sometimes cringe at the fact that it could happen to us. Perhaps this is why it seems to be one of the least discussed topics. Who wants to admit to their failure – certainly not to your boss or company head. Yet failure still happens. We could even say that it’s rampant especially when it comes to ill-defined projects. That’s why it’s so important to evaluate your project at the start. Closely examine all, road-blocks, hurdles, hills, detours, potholes, manholes or even an angry flock of birds. I think you get the point. Before starting your project, knowing exactly what lays ahead lets the project manager, team, and client mitigate associated risks.

In this article, we’ll identify 10 causes of project failure. Knowing about these will help you prepare for your next PM job:

1. Poor Preparation

You need to have a clear picture of what you’re going to do, in advance – as much as possible. Otherwise, you may find yourself up stream without a paddle. You need to know what project success looks like at the beginning and don’t loose focus of it. Hence, if you don’t have a clear focus at the at the earliest stage of the process, you are making things harder on yourself. Have a meeting, even if it is lengthy, with stakeholders to discuss their expectations on cost, time and product quality. Know how you will execute your tasks in order to meet everyone’s expectations.

2. Inadequate Documentation and Tracking

This is the responsibility of the project manager. Tracking milestones is how you are going to know whether you are meeting expectations. Proper recording and monitoring lets the PM identify where more resources are needed to complete a project on time.

3. Bad Leadership

When we see this word, leader, we usually think, the project manager. However, the people at each management-level have a responsible to ensure that the project is successful. Management should not micromanage but provide support to ensure that the PM can follow through with the expectations placed upon them.

4. Failure to Define Parameters and Enforce Them

When you’re a leader, PM, it’s imperative that you’re able to work well with your team. If and when tasks or goals are not met to standard, there should be ramifications. Rank tasks by priority and assign them to the most proficient individual.

5. Inexperienced Project Managers

A project manager has a lot of responsibility. You need to assign people to management roles who have matching education and experience. In some cases, and perhaps more often than not, inexperienced managers are given projects. They may be very capable of managing projects, but the key is to keep them at a level where they can succeed. Otherwise, you will set them up for failure. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a challenge, just don’t make it beyond their reach.

6. Inaccurate Cost Estimations

There may be times when your cost estimates are completely off. As you know, when resources run-out, the project stops. Prevent this by identifying the lack of resources early on.

7. Little Communication at Every Level of Management

Whether it’s between upper management, middle or with the team, it’s disastrous to have poor communication. Everyone should feel free to come forward to express their concern or give suggestions. When everyone is on the same page and there’s transparency, workflow is at an optimum level.

8. Culture or Ethical Misalignment

Company culture must be comprised of competence, pro-activeness, and professionalism. If it isn’t, team members will not be motivated to do their best. Basically, everyone involved must be invested in their part of the project to successfully complete it.

9. Competing Priorities

When there’re not enough resources, there’s bound to be competition between personnel resources and funding. Having good cost estimations at the start will eliminate this problem.

10. Disregarding Project Warning Signs

When a project is on the verge of failing, there will have always been warning signs. Taking action immediately can save the project. Otherwise, the whole endeavor goes down the drain.

Well there you have it, reasons for project failure. This is the time when you should consider ways to prevent this failure. Adequate employee training, project management software and management transparency will lead you to project success. Finding the right project management software is one of the easiest steps to take so that you’re on right track – the successful project track. A tool such as these eliminates project failure. They serve to easily manage tasks like time tracking, cost tracking, cost estimations and more. Here are a few that can set your project on the road to success.

How about looking for a tool to eliminate project failure?

The points made above all demonstrate different aspects to how project failure can occur, including lack of communication and poor tracking. There exist many tools/apps that can help in many of these and should be considered. Here are two apps that might set your projects on a successful path.

Why Projects Fail

For a lighthearted, actually, quite funny video on project failure watch this video. You will be able to relate!


Rosanne Lim

Rosanne Lim

I'm a business graduate with 5 years experience as a web writer. I've written everything from in-depth business reports and magazine articles to product descriptions for ecommerce websites.

19 Responses

  1. Avatar cephas lokipi says:

    nice work I have learnt a lot thanks .

  2. Avatar irene says:

    best explanation

  3. Avatar haris saleem says:

    Can you tell me what are the conditions leading to conflicts, confusion and unsatisfied customers, with respect to project management?

  4. Avatar Simon Hogan says:

    You forgot about not defining requirements correctly. Probably should be number one on the list

  5. Avatar jameson says:

    even when the wrong market was targeted

  6. Avatar IVO CESAR says:

    The main reason for project fail is poor risk wide risk management in all project step.

  7. Avatar Mohamed Numu Jabbie says:

    Lack of evaluation to identify unintended consequences can lead to protect failure.

  8. Avatar Lobsang Tsering says:

    i think that Main failure of project failure are
    1) lack of user interaction with the system
    2) Improper requirement documentation and its volatility nature of customer on requirement.
    3) Inadequate in both human and technology resource.

  9. Avatar Tushar says:

    Hi thank you for this post the main failure is Inadequate Documentation and Tracking, and Communication at Every Level of Management because if communication is not correct whether from manager side or team member the project will fail with clear understanding. very useful information I will bookmark for future reference.

  10. Avatar Gatjang William says:

    unacceptable advice can contribute to the failure of Project Management

  11. Avatar Max says:

    All good, apart from that it is absolutely not clear what a project failure is?? It must be defined first before discussing it, that is the main academic requirement.

  12. Avatar That works says:

    A project completed can be termed success but did it come at the expense of half of your subcontractors? I have experienced first hand the panic of a general contractor who was behind and had bidded the project low. Trying to make up losses from subcontractors is only a deception that will bring your company to an end sooner rather than later. Or the executive will leave for “better” opportunities. Embracing deception does not allow you or your people to make better decisions on the next project. Is contracting only about the paperwork or is there more at stake?

  13. Avatar sTacy Nolan says:

    Great article on a very interesting topic, thanks fore sharing. I believe not doing project estimation/job costing and time management property could lead to failure very easily. These are the very important part of the project that I do not recommend leaving out.

  14. Avatar rasul says:

    Fact indeed

  15. Avatar Omollo Innocent says:

    In Uganda, construction projects mostly fail due to the interference of the clients in the construction process. The clients tend to become site supervisors, end up interfering with the concrete mix proportions and steel quantities in a bid to save which has in most cases led to collapse of structures during construction.

  16. Avatar Claudio Zalewski says:

    Defining a proper WBS is the first step to a oid failure, being part of correct early preparation. Proper Document control is the other one.
    Very nice article

  17. Avatar Aliyu Seid says:

    A very nice explanation, thanks. Would you mind sharing a sample evaluation of a failed project in education program?

  18. Avatar Kieron Dowling says:

    Just head for something like Cumulus PMO and run your projects in the cloud. Too many organisations try and run their projects in house

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