What To Do When Your Project Is Bound To Fail?

If your projects are always completed on time and achieve their objectives, you are in the minority – Gallup’s surveys have revealed that just 2.5% of businesses report a 100% success rate. According to Innotas, 55% of all IT projects end in failure.

Why Do Projects Fail?

Appreciating why so many projects flounder is the first step in fixing them. Here are just a few of the most common reasons:

  • Insufficient funding
  • Unrealistic deadlines that management refuses to re-evaluate, even when the project starts to show signs of failing
  • A failure to measure key objectives or use a system that detects early warning signs
  • Poor communication between management and other team members
  • A lack of expertise among team members
  • A focus on rational Project Management and techniques that overlook social and emotional aspects of a project such as an employee engagement

Watch our video on improving communication management.

How To Get A Project Back On Track

Step 1: Swallow Your Pride & Halt Proceedings

Don’t remain in denial. Speak up the moment you suspect that a project is veering off course, even if it means admitting that you are at fault. Avoid the temptation to blame others. A collaborative approach is the best way forward, so do all you can to keep your working relationships positive.

Store project materials securely, away from employees—allowing anyone to carry out further work on the project will only lead to confusion. Explain to everyone involved that the project is on hold for the time being.

Be completely honest. If you have no idea yet what has gone wrong, tell your team(s) that you are undertaking an investigation and you will keep them updated.

Gain an extensive understanding of project management and learn how to manage complex ones with our Project Management training program now!

Step 2: Analyze The Underlying Issues

Look at the project as a whole, and pin down the root problems. Start by considering the list at the beginning of this article.

For example, was the project properly funded? Were the deadlines unrealistic? Do you have the right technology? Do you have the right people in your team(s)? Has the scope of the project gradually increased over time to the point at which your resources can no longer stretch to meet demand? If you start to see a trend with failed projects that suggest skills aren’t where they need to be for members of your team, start researching your training options. A refresh on the skills needed to be a project manager today could be exactly what’s needed to turn your team around. Look at online training like the Digital Project Manager or PMP Certification Training.

Ask lots of questions, ask as many people as possible for their input, and document your findings. You can learn how to write a comprehensive report that analyzes any project at Trust My Paper.

Step 3: Call A Meeting With All Affected Parties

The next step is to hold a meeting to decide the ultimate fate of the project. This meeting should be attended by senior management, line managers, team leaders, clients, and anyone else with a stake in the outcome.

Arrive at the meeting armed with as much information as possible about why the project is failing, and potential alternatives that would still meet your business objectives.

If there is no one willing or able to assess the project, consider hiring an external consultant. You could also ask an impartial person from another department with no personal interest in the project for their perspective.

Step 4: Work Together To Decide Whether The Project Is Worth Saving

Even if your business has invested a lot of resources to the project, it may not be redeemable. Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy, also known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Take a step back and try to think about the problem objectively. This means asking yourself and others some tough questions. For example, does the project align with your broader business goals? Is it starting to impact other, more important work? Is there some way you can salvage part of the project for future use?

Do not finish the meeting until the group has reached a consensus. If this requires an additional meeting, so be it. In the case of large projects, it may take a few days to discuss all the options.

Step 5: Assign New Tasks & Improve Morale

If everyone has agreed to reorganize the project rather than terminate it entirely, your next task is to decide who will be responsible for putting the new plan into action. Put together a detailed schedule of tasks to be completed, and key deadlines that must be met.

It’s normal for a team to feel dispirited when a project shows signs of failing. As a manager, your job is to boost their engagement and maintain team cohesion. Morale-boosting activities such as a daily session in which all members share what they have achieved can help employees feel more motivated. Social activities can also strengthen relationships.

Step 6: Monitor The Situation Regularly

Stay vigilant! The last thing you want is to put together a strong rescue plan, only to then see the project run into further difficulties. Be diligent in measuring your team’s output. Hold them accountable for their actions through regular meetings, project management software, or both.

Read 4 Best Team Project Management Software Programs.

Step 7: Conduct A Post-Mortem

Finally, make sure that you learn from difficult projects. Not only will a post-mortem help you feel better in the short term, but it will also help you avoid making the same mistakes again. Write up your findings as a summary document and share it with everyone on the project.

Are you a professional who is aspiring to be a project manager? Try answering this PMP® Practice Questions and assess yourself.


Project failure is a frequent occurrence across all sectors. Fortunately, when you know how to turn a project around, you can make the best of a bad situation, whether that means shelving it entirely or taking a new route to the results you need.

PMP® and PMI® are registered trademarks of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

About the Author

Marie FincherMarie Fincher

Marie Fincher is a digital content director at Trust My Paper with a background in marketing, technology, and business intelligence. Marie gradually changed her focus from working in marketing to writing about it.

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