Oct 13 2023

Project Failure: Why Most Projects Don’t Succeed – And How to Fix It

Team Collaboration
14 minutes
Project Failure

In the dynamic realm of project leadership, organizations constantly grapple with a formidable adversary - project failure. As leaders, we are all too familiar with the unique challenges, pitfalls, and uncertainties that each project presents. Yet, it is within these uncertain terrains that the role of leadership truly comes to the fore.

As the architects of projects, we are entrusted with the vision, strategy, and execution. Our mission is to guide our teams to success, navigate through stormy waters, and ultimately ensure that our projects reach their intended destinations. However, despite our best efforts, some projects still veer off course and fall prey to project failure.

So why is it that even with meticulous planning and efforts, some projects still deviate from their path, succumbing to project failure? This question remains a constant conundrum in the field of project management. It’s a reminder that while we can control many aspects of a project, there are always elements beyond our control that can impact the outcome. It’s these unpredictable factors that make project leadership both challenging and rewarding. In this article, we will delve deep into the complexities of project failure, unravel its root causes, analyze its impact, and, most crucially, provide strategies and best practices to successfully steer through these perilous waters.

Understanding the Reasons for Project Failure

Project failure is not merely about missed deadlines or budget overruns, but a failure to deliver promised outcomes, leading to stakeholder dissatisfaction and unmet organizational goals. The definition of failure can vary from project to project, organization to organization. Even a completed project can be labeled a failure if it does not meet the ROI target.

Common reasons of project failure include scope creep, inadequate resource allocation, and poor risk management. However, even “failed” projects might produce major benefits, especially when ambitious goals are set. Understanding these nuances is crucial to devising effective strategies to circumvent these pitfalls and steer projects toward successful completion.

And if you’re consistently achieving a 100% success rate, it’s likely that your planning isn’t ambitious enough. However, it’s essential to ensure that if projects do falter, they do so for the right reasons of project failure such as setting ambitious stretch goals to foster progress rather than due to avoidable missteps.

Project Failure

Statistics That Show What Failure Causes

Every project, regardless of its industry, demands the deployment of robust project management solutions. The significance of this indispensable tool is more palpable in today’s ever-evolving business milieu than ever before.

In the absence of effective project management, workplace operations risk descending into chaos. The enlightening revelations provided by key project management statistics underscore this fact.

No matter where one stands in the project management hierarchy, these statistics offer valuable insights. They highlight the far-reaching influence of project management across industries and around the globe, underscoring its pivotal role in driving business success.

  • Organizations squander 12% of their precious resources due to inadequate project management, leading to project failure.
  • A study by KPMG revealed that a staggering 70% of organizations have experienced at least one project failure in the preceding 12 months.
  • The same study indicated that 50% of respondents reported that their projects failed to consistently achieve their intended objectives, indicating reasons of project failure.
  • Only 58% of organizations recognize the value of project management, which is surprising given its proven benefits in preventing project failure.
  • For organizations that fail to see the value of project management, this translates into wasted resources, time, and effort. To quantify project failure, for every $1 billion invested in the US, $122 million was squandered due to poor project performance.
  • According to executive leaders, a lack of clear goals is the most common factor (37%) behind project failure.

10 Common Reasons of Project Failures and Their Solutions

Navigating through the intricate maze of project management, where each initiative brings its own unique challenges, the shadow of project failure is a constant threat. While the specific reasons of project failure may differ from one project to another, there are certain common failure causes that consistently jeopardize project success. Here are a few recurring challenges that shed light on why projects stumble and offer practical solutions to overcome them.

Unclear Goals and Objectives

  • Reason for project failure - Roughly 37% of projects fail due to unclear project objectives and milestones, a major reason for project failure.
  • Solution - Setting distinct goals and objectives is crucial for steering a project toward success. Without this fundamental step, a project is left directionless, leading to repercussions such as vague operational methods, individual performance evaluations, last-minute course corrections, and reduced team efficiency. Consider utilizing advanced project management software that offers goal-tracking features. These solutions allow you to clearly define project objectives and milestones, ensuring that everyone on the team is aligned with the project's direction.

Lack of Resource Planning

  • Reason for project failure - Insufficient resource planning, which includes human resources, financial allocation, and materials, can lead to inefficiencies and overworked team members.
  • Solution - Effective resource planning is vital. It involves ensuring that team members are neither underutilized nor overwhelmed. Additionally, financial planning needs to be thorough to avoid budget overruns. Modern project management tools provide resource allocation and financial planning modules. These features help you allocate resources efficiently, ensuring that your team is optimally utilized without being overburdened and that your budgets are well-managed.

Poor Communication Across the Organization

  • Reason for project failure - Poor communication accounts for project failure in 33% of cases and jeopardizes budgets in 56% of instances.
  • Solution - The establishment of strong communication channels, policies, and stakeholder engagement is crucial. Addressing issues such as mutual understanding, false assumptions of communication, and lack of transparency is essential to prevent negative impacts such as poor collaboration, productivity loss, and workplace mistrust. Consider adopting collaboration and communication tools that facilitate seamless interaction among team members, stakeholders, and project managers. These solutions enhance transparency, reduce miscommunication, and foster a culture of open dialogue.

Inadequate Stakeholder Management

  • Reason for project failure - Ineffective stakeholder engagement heightens the risk of project failure.
  • Solution - Comprehensive stakeholder management involves identifying all stakeholders, maintaining balanced communication, and fostering engagement. Ignoring these aspects can hinder success, with disengaged stakeholders potentially becoming obstacles to project success. Leverage stakeholder management features in project management software. These tools help you identify and engage with all relevant stakeholders, ensuring that their input is considered throughout the project lifecycle.

Poorly Defined Project Scope

  • Reason for project failure - An ambiguous project scope often leads to scope creep, triggering a domino effect of problems such as unmet client expectations, continuous changes, budget overruns, missed deadlines, and decreased employee performance - all failure causes.
  • Solution - Clearly defining the project scope and documenting it meticulously can mitigate the harmful effects of scope creep and prevent project failure. Project management software equipped with robust scope management capabilities allows you to define and document the project scope clearly. It also helps in tracking changes and ensuring that the project stays aligned with the initial scope.

Inaccurate Cost and Time Estimates

  • Reason for project failure - Depending on vague estimates for task duration and cost can lead to inaccurate predictions.
  • Solution - Enhance estimation practices through upfront planning and detailed assessments to prevent unexpected challenges for employees and budget overruns - common reasons for project failure. Utilize project management tools that provide advanced estimation and planning features. These tools facilitate the creation of accurate project timelines and cost estimates based on historical data and real-time information, reducing the likelihood of budget and schedule overruns.

Inadequate Risk Management

  • Reason for project failure - Ineffective risk management can result in project delays, poor user adoption, budget overruns, and ultimately, project failure.
  • Solution - Effective risk management is crucial for identifying and addressing potential issues throughout the project lifecycle. This reduces uncertainty and increases the likelihood of timely completion. Leverage project management software with integrated risk management capabilities. These tools help in identifying, assessing, and mitigating risks, ensuring that potential issues are proactively managed and do not escalate into project failure.

Inexperienced Project Managers

  • Reason for project failure - Inexperienced project managers may find it difficult to effectively navigate challenges, thereby increasing the risk of failure.
  • Solution - Experienced and competent project managers are key to project success. Organizations must ensure that project management is entrusted to qualified professionals rather than inexperienced individuals. Implement training and certification programs for project managers to enhance their skills and knowledge. Additionally, consider utilizing project management software that provides guidance and best practices for project management, supporting both novice and experienced project managers.

Unrealistic Expectations

  • Reason for project failure - Unrealistic expectations, frequently due to an inaccurate assessment of team capabilities, can lead to team members feeling overwhelmed - a common cause of project failure.
  • Solution - To ensure a realistic path to project success, it’s essential to align expectations with team capabilities, thereby avoiding overburdening team members. Use project management software that offers realistic project planning features. These tools help in setting achievable goals and expectations based on the team's capacity and skills, preventing burnout and enhancing project success rates.

Monitoring and Controlling

  • Reason for project failure: Overlooking project monitoring and control can lead to deviations from planned schedules and budgets.
  • Solution To keep the project on track, it’s crucial to implement diligent monitoring and control practices. This involves continuously updating schedules and proactively responding to deviations. Implement project management software equipped with real-time monitoring and control features. These tools enable you to track progress, identify deviations from the plan, and take immediate corrective actions, ensuring that the project stays on course and within budget.

Leveraging Modern Technology

Big projects, whether in technology, mergers, or growth strategies, often consume extensive resources and time but frequently disappoint in terms of returns. Studies suggest a high project failure rate, which not only carries financial consequences but also demoralizes hardworking employees. The traditional project management approach tends to focus on developing components and recommendations, diverting attention from the ultimate goal.

When projects involve many contributors and extended timeframes, predicting all necessary activities becomes challenging. Even if all activities are anticipated, integrating them can prove difficult. Project managers emphasize plans, timelines, and budgets to reduce execution risk but often overlook the “white space risk” of unidentified activities and the “integration risk” of disjointed components. Consequently, projects can execute individual tasks flawlessly, yet fail to deliver the intended outcomes - a common reason of project failure.

Project management complexity has grown, necessitating the use of various technologies for efficiency. Here’s a list of some key technologies that you must consider to prevent project failure:

  • Project Management Software - This technology helps in organizing all project aspects, from timelines and budgets to resources and team members. It provides a centralized platform for tracking progress and managing tasks, enhancing efficiency and productivity - a crucial step in preventing project failure.
  • Collaboration Tools - These tools facilitate seamless teamwork by enabling real-time communication and document collaboration. They help in bridging geographical gaps, fostering a collaborative work environment, and ensuring everyone is on the same page - reducing the reasons of project failure.
  • Time Tracking Software -This technology allows for the monitoring of time spent on specific tasks. It aids in resource allocation and budgeting, providing insights into team productivity and helping identify areas for improvement - addressing one of the common failure causes.
  • Cloud Storage - Cloud storage solutions enable easy file access and sharing, crucial for distributed teams or cross-departmental projects. They ensure that all project-related documents are stored in one place, and accessible to all team members - reducing the risk of project failure.
  • Gantt Charts - These provide a visual representation of a project’s timeline, showing task dependencies and expected completion times. They help in planning and scheduling projects, tracking progress, and managing dependencies - addressing one of the common reasons of project failure.
  • Agile Project Management Tools - These tools support the agile methodology which emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and continuous improvement. They help in managing sprints, tracking progress, and identifying areas for improvement - reducing the risk of project failure.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) - AI can analyze large amounts of data to provide insights, predict potential issues, suggest mitigations, and automate repetitive tasks. It aids in decision-making and increases efficiency by automating routine tasks - addressing one of the common failure causes.
  • Virtual Reality (VR) - VR creates immersive project environments for better scope understanding and issue identification. It allows for scenario simulation for solution testing in a safe, virtual environment - reducing the risk of project failure.
  • Predictive Analytics - This technology uses historical data and machine learning to forecast future project outcomes. It helps in risk management by predicting potential issues and suggesting preventive measures - addressing one of the common reasons of project failure.
Project Failure

Infamous Project Failure Causes

Edsel by Ford: In 1957, Ford launched the Edsel, a car intended to revolutionize the automobile industry. Despite investing $250 million into the project, the car was a commercial failure due to its unattractive design and mechanical issues.
The project’s failure was attributed to the disregard of market research and consumer preferences, as well as internal miscommunication.
The key lesson learned is the importance of aligning corporate strategies with actual consumer demands and market realities to prevent project failure.

IBM PCjr: IBM released its PCjr in 1983 in an attempt to attract home computer users. However, it offered fewer features than its competitors and was twice as expensive as an Atari or Commodore. After customers complained about the low-quality keyboard, IBM offered an alternative, which had its own issues and couldn’t revive interest in the PCjr.
The IBM PCjr failed because of three flaws: It was too expensive, too incompatible, and not expandable enough - all failure causes.
The key lesson learned is that while it’s important to differentiate your product from competitors, it’s equally crucial to ensure that it meets market expectations in terms of price, compatibility, and expandability to prevent project failure.

New Coke: In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced a new formula for its iconic drink to regain market share from Pepsi. Despite extensive market research indicating that consumers preferred the new taste, the product failed spectacularly. This was largely due to consumers’ loyalty to the original formula and resistance to change - a common reason of project failure.
The key lesson learned is that while market research is important, understanding customer motivations and loyalty is equally crucial to preventing project failure.

Best Practices to Avoid Project Failure

Here are the most effective project management best practices that can significantly enhance your outcomes and enable you to manage your projects proficiently:

  • Initiate a Kickoff Meeting - This crucial first meeting harmonizes the interests of all project stakeholders.
  • Set Clear Project Scope and Objectives - Formulate and secure approval for project scope management early in the project lifecycle.
  • Maintain Effective Communication - Ensure all relevant parties are consistently updated throughout the project’s duration.
  • Solicit Feedback - Incorporate a feedback mechanism in your project process to guarantee the final product aligns with client expectations.
  • Clarify Roles and Responsibilities - Precisely delineate responsibilities within your project team to avoid confusion.
  • Leverage a Project Management Tool - Utilize a tool that aids in planning, tracking, and reporting on your project.
  • Prioritize Tasks Effectively - Rank tasks based on their significance to the project goals.
  • Manage Project Risks Proactively - Identify potential risks at the outset of your project and devise strategies to mitigate them.
  • Monitor Project Progress Regularly - Continuously assess whether your project is on course to achieve its objectives.
  • Foster Team Collaboration - Cultivate a collaborative work environment where everyone feels integral to the team.
  • Conclude Projects Efficiently - Post-project, review what worked and what didn’t, using these insights for future projects.


In conclusion, while the journey to project success is laden with challenges and reasons of project failure they can be overcome with vigilance, strategic planning, and effective communication. By confronting these common failure causes directly, project leaders can confidently navigate the intricate landscape of project management. The article underscores the pivotal role of modern technology. These tools equip project leaders with the means to amplify efficiency, communication, and risk management. As we gaze into the future, predictive intelligence stands out as a revolutionary force, providing priceless insights to avert potential project failure. By harnessing these innovations, project leaders can guide their teams toward unparalleled success.
TrueProject, a state-of-the-art predictive intelligence solution, offers comprehensive project management services from a single location. Its AI-driven feature, Derived Insight, proactively alerts you about potential obstacles and deviations, ensuring alignment with project goals. More than just data-driven, TrueProject incorporates stakeholder feedback into its operations for a holistic view, preventing unexpected surprises-a common reason of project failure. This hyper-converged SaaS solution combines modern features with crucial stakeholder feedback analysis, poised to make your future projects a resounding success. Utilizing a powerful advanced analytical solution like TrueProject allows you to move beyond the question of why projects fail and enables you to achieve successful project outcomes each time.

More information about TrueProject on www.trueprojectinsight.com

Dale Malcolm

About the Author:

Dale Malcolm is the Director of Trueproject Customer Success with over 30 years of experience spanning software development, consulting, and business process re-engineering across multiple industries and countries. He has excelled in roles ranging from lead architect for data collection systems to database architect for telecom software, and has led various teams in implementing cost-effective and efficient IT solutions, including ERP and Enterprise Architecture practices.