Why do projects fail?

There must be a good reason why all these projects fail. There is; in fact, there are many factors that contribute to project failure. The UK Office of Government Commerce did a study that shows the main reasons that projects fail are:

  • lack of clear executive leadership (the ‘missing’ Sponsor)
  • poor processes for identifying and managing risks associated with the project
  • a gap between the Project team, often with technical expertise, and the rest of the business, who often don’t understand the nitty gritty details
  • failure to take into account and manage the fact that humans naturally dislike change and the impact this has on business processes and people
  • project durations that stretch over a year, as the business environment evolves rapidly.

Technology was one of the least likely reasons for project failure. This shows us that the human implications of change are far more important than any IT system design.

There is plenty of academic research into why projects fail, and the opposite: what makes projects a success. What is missing in the project management profession is a willingness for organisations to talk about why individual projects fail. There is a difference to filling in an anonymous questionnaire for someone working in academia and coming out in public with details about why your project was a disaster. Many of the case studies about project failure are publicly funded projects, which are accountable to taxpayers: the majority of the list in section 3 above are public projects. The audit reports and inquiries are available for anyone to read, and while they are often on a big scale, there is a lot managers of projects of any size can learn from them.


Read my definitive guide to project success criteria to help you get your project off to the best start.