Why project management fails: 7 common causes

According to the Project Management Institute, only 26% of all projects succeed. This means that most projects fail: they aren’t finished on time, go over budget, or don’t have the desired end result. A lot of these failures can be attributed to inadequate project management.

For the record, we’re not talking about bad project managers. Most of the time, the problems lie in the methods, channels, tools or people you are working with. If you have all the necessary resources at your disposal, it goes without saying that fewer things can go wrong.

Bad communication

We all agree that sharing information and knowledge proactively is essential for any project, right? Still, it turns out that poor communication is the main reason why projects don’t have the desired outcomes or simply fail outright.

Poor communication can have many causes: language barriers, non-complementary personality traits, workplace factors, failing channels… The possible consequences are manifold as well: different expectations and thus disappointment, bruised egos, unnecessary stress because of a lack of overview, last-minute requests and rushed work.

Failing to plan (is planning to fail)

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When a big project lands on your plate, your first reflex will be to dive right in and start gathering business requirements. Planning is often regarded as a second-rate activity, as something that has to be done but doesn’t add value.

However, failing to adequately define the scope, responsibilities and timeline of a project is a surefire way to get into serious trouble later. Without a good plan, you risk a lack of business support, resources and time, as well as missed deadlines and angry colleagues or clients.

Losing track of the details

The devil is in the details. When you’re juggling a lot of projects at once, keeping track of them can be difficult. How much of our budget do we have left? Who is responsible for what? Are we still on track to meet the deadline?

Everybody dreads awkward silences in status meetings, or – god forbid – talking about the wrong project to the wrong client. At the very least, it doesn’t inspire confidence. At worst, it might sink your entire project.

Using the wrong tools

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As a project manager, you’ll find yourself using multiple tools to keep track of assignments, team members, deliverables and project statuses. In many cases, however, the software you use won’t meet your expectations, isn’t flexible enough for the kind of project you’re handling or slows you down immensely due to its complexity. The result can feel like eating soup with a fork.

Lack of monitoring and controlling

OK, let’s assume you’ve started your project and created an air-tight schedule… but then you never or very rarely update the planning. To make sure everything is going according to plan, you’ll need to perform regular checkups and make changes where necessary. That also means frequently checking in with the team to see how you can prevent things from slowing down.

No risk management

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Because every project is unique, there is always a certain level of unpredictability built in. Qualifying and quantifying that uncertainty and proactively anticipating the factors that might go wrong and how you will respond if they do is called ‘risk management’. And yes, it is also part of the job when you’re a project manager.

Changes in scope (or: ‘scope creep’)

Here’s a classic scenario: a project stakeholder asks for a ‘little change’ or a ‘small addition’ to the scope. So small, in fact, that they don’t expect budget or timing to be affected by it. Right? Wrong!

Every project is an artful balance of cost, time, performance, quality and risk. Disturbing it is almost always detrimental to the project and its outcomes. As a project manager, it’s your duty to guard that equilibrium and point out to your stakeholders when they are jeopardizing the balance of things.

  • 24/07/2017
  • Last modified on 19/03/2024

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