Top Reasons Projects Fail

Everyone has failed projects. We start big and hope for the best – kicking off the bright new project, only to run into problems along the way. According to many surveys, about 40 – 50 percent of the time, something happens that either kills the project or ensures that it won’t be considered much of a success by throwing it way off the timeline, budget or quality delivery. Or perhaps we just lose the customer’s confidence and satisfaction level along the way. Any of these can result in a project being deemed less than successful.

I’ve considered my own PM past (and present), the experiences of my colleagues, and observations I’ve made along the way…and below is my list of some of the top underlying reasons projects fail. Of course, there can and will be many others – many that have absolutely nothing with anything on this list or anything we have control over, but this is a solid list…in my opinion…of many key causes of project failures. Please consider your own list and share it.

Lack of funding.

Everything fails from lack of funding. No money is no money, no matter what happens next. Without more money added to the Project or the delivery team agreeing to do work for free… no more forward progress can be made. More funding is needed. Customers don’t like to hear that. I took over a very large technical implementation for a federal agency and it was already overbudget when I came on board. We never could recover and the end result was project cancellation. It was painful, but no more money is no more money.

Poorly documented or missing requirements.

Requirements are the lifeblood of the project. If key requirements are missing or are not documented in enough detail, then the chances you’ll design the proper solution are slim… you’ll be leaving success to luck and that’s a bad place to be.

Lack of key skills or resources.

Do you and your project team members have the right skills for the project? Many projects have failed when a team tries to take on a project that they lack the experience or knowledge base for technically. Yes, you can learn along the way – that’s how we grow professionally. But when the stretch is too big, that’s when we miss key requirements, create a bad design, or go through expensive and time consuming re-work that can end up killing the project.

Communication breakdown.

Communication is the very heart of successful project management. And by communication I mean good, effective, efficient communication. Speaking, listening, emails, meetings, etc. Everything that communication entails. If there is a breakdown in any one of those, it can leave the project at risk. If meetings aren’t happening or are poorly attended…that can cause project failure. If the comminication from the project manager to project team is poor, or vice versa, that can definitely contribute to project failure as project tasks are not delegated properly and requirements are poorly communicated. If communication between the project team and the project customer is poor, that can definitely be a problem. In order for requirements to be properly understood and interpreted, the customer is needed for input to decisions, and the customer is needed for weekly participation to ensure that progress is happening…and the right progress is happening…throughout the engagement.

Technology disconnect.

If there is any technology aspect to the project – and the tech solution misses the mark – that can be a project disaster. The final solution rolled out to the user community may be unusable. This goes back to not taking on a project that the project team is not technically ready to take on because failure is too likely of an outcome…leaving success to chance or luck is always a bad idea. If your organization and team are not ready for this technology, avoid proceeding.

Summary / call for input

Again, this is just my list from experience and observation. What’s your list? Difficult customers? Change in direction from senior management? Everyone’s had at least one project failure (if they care to admit it)…what caused yours?

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Brad Egeland
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. He has authored more than 4,000 expert project management, best practices and business strategy articles, eBooks and videos. Brad is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at

3 Replies to “Top Reasons Projects Fail”

  1. Agree with all of these points.
    One aspect on why I see projects fail is that some project management approaches work on a small scale, but once projects are large, the approaches buckle and break under the weight.

    For instance, earned value is one approach. In small projects earned value works very well. In large projects earned value is very misleading.

    Another example is estimated total project hours and costs. The bigger the project is, the larger the percent that the estimate is off by.

    The there is the ego effect. When a project manager has been on smooth projects, once they hit a nasty project that requires turn-around expertise, they fail miserably.

    There are more examples. Way more.

  2. Not managing scope creep. Change management process
    Not identifying and managing risks an issues
    Accepting a vendors sales speil. Tell them to “show me”

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