Missed deadlines, dissatisfied bosses and customers, and deliverables not living up to expectations – project failures are common. Up to 70% of all projects fail to deliver what they promised their customers. While lack of implementation of a management process has been one of the major causes, poor performance, budget overrun, and others join the list too. 

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Top 10 Major Causes of Project Failure 

Preventing project failure demands advanced planning and stopping common project pitfalls in their tracks. Review the ten most agreed-upon causes of project failures are brace up for difficult situations:

1. Lack of Planning

Benjamin Franklin rightly said that when you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Poor planning is the root cause of project failures. A project's success relies heavily on defining in detail the scope, each member's role, and the time frame. Lack of concrete planning exposes a project to unprecedented risks and issues. Wastage of quality time is bound to occur when you try to figure out ways of solving challenges after you kickstart the project. 

Solution: With every detail laid down, keeping a realistic approach, the chances of meeting a failure are considerably reduced.

2. Kitchen Sink Syndrome 

When project deliverables change as the work progresses and exceed the project scope, you end up with more tasks and responsibilities than you bargained for. Such a situation is termed scope creep or requirement creep, or kitchen sink syndrome. While requirement creep can be as blatant as an unexpected list of requests, it usually doesn't happen all at once; it slowly creeps in. 

For instance, you planned five advertisements for your new product launch. The stakeholder then requests you to add two additional online blogs to support a different product. This new addition stretches your present resources and can delay the initial assignment. Changes in the scope of the project are a major cause of missed deadlines and, thus, project failures. 

Solution: It is crucial to define, circulate, and obtain mutual agreement on the scope of your project before you begin.

3. Inconsistently Defined Resources

Planning should not be limited to timetables, meetings, and responsibilities. Rather human, financial, intellectual, and structural resources are crucial too. When these factors aren't consistently determined, deadlines are missed, jeopardizing a project's conclusion.

Often enterprises embark on a project without having the resources needed to get the job done, such as budget, tools, staff, time, or space. 

Solution: Making a resource management plan in advance is a promising approach to avoiding project failures. 

4. Unrealistic Deadlines

Project failures are bound to occur when you plan complex tasks for short due dates. It is vital to carefully look through all the aspects of a project and consider how long every phase would take. Additionally, keeping room for unexpected events is a realistic approach that helps develop a quality project.

Solution: Considering every aspect before determining the deadline is a must. It is better to consult your team and the team leader before making a commitment. 

5. Lack of Transparency

Complete project visibility for every person related to its completion is a must to avoid failures. You must maintain transparency not just with the project manager but with other team members too.

Solution: Clear guidelines, effective communication, timely meetings, good document management, and honesty in commitments help maintain the much-needed transparency. Project management software has stood the test of time for transparency maintenance.  

6. Lack of Communication

PMI's report revealed that companies risk approximately $135M for every $1 billion spent on a project. Nearly $75M of that $135 million (which translates to approximately 56%) is put at risk by ineffective communications. 

Poor communication results in misunderstandings in the workflow and, consequently, a weak return on investment or even loss of revenue. Communication has the power to spell either the success or failure of a project. 

Solution: the right project management tools facilitate active interaction among team members and the project manager.  

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7. Unrealistic Expectations

Setting unrealistic deadlines is a flawed approach, but what's worse? Expecting to complete a project quicker, with a limited budget and a reduced team. Project managers often have an unrealistic approach when it comes to assessing their teams' capabilities. They set high expectations that meet their doom. 

Solution: Avoid overburdening your team to obtain quality work rather than getting a high quantity with compromised quality.

8. Lack of Monitoring

Planning, communicating, and assigning tasks for a project is not enough for a project to be successful. It is obligatory for project managers to ensure that everything goes as planned. 

Solution: Earned Value management: This technique monitors the project plan, actual work, and completed work to see if a project is on track. It estimates what amount of the budget and time should have been spent right on the work done so far. 

Gemba walks: Taking out time to visit the exact location where the work is done helps closely monitor the progress. 

9. Lack of Risk Management

Zero risk is too much to ask for. However, if you have not thought about a solution beforehand, an adverse situation can turn into a disaster and lead to project failures.

Solution: It is essential to set up risk management from the beginning of the project. Identifying and prioritizing risks can help limit or even eliminate them with effective preventive and corrective methods. 

10. Inadequate Stakeholder Management

Stakeholders have an intrinsic interest in the project. Poor stakeholder management, such as defining them too narrowly, failing to strike a balance between compliance and strategic opportunities, and hiding self-interest, lead to project failures. 

Solution: It is the responsibility of a project manager to identify stakeholders and communicate with them timely. Engaging stakeholders gives support and insights to steer your projects towards success.

How Can You Avoid Project Failures? 

Regardless of your industry, the following practices help avoid project failures: 

  • Making a concrete plan
  • Establishing clear and realistic goals using methods like SMART goals
  • Conducting smart risk management
  • Determining resources and making a budget for the project 
  • Using technology for seamless project management 
  • Monitoring progress and communicating effectively 
  • Automating tasks to boost productivity and service quality
Making a career in project management has never been this easy! Enroll in our Post Graduate Program in Project Management to get started today!

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Simplilearn is one of the world’s leading providers of online training for Digital Marketing, Cloud Computing, Project Management, Data Science, IT, Software Development, and many other emerging technologies.

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  • PMP, PMI, PMBOK, CAPM, PgMP, PfMP, ACP, PBA, RMP, SP, and OPM3 are registered marks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.
  • *According to Simplilearn survey conducted and subject to terms & conditions with Ernst & Young LLP (EY) as Process Advisors