3 key reasons for project failures

 By guest blogger Brad Egeland.

Everyone experiences project failures to some degree through their project management careers. It’s interesting when they immediately try to blame a “too short” delivery timeline or a budget that was “utterly impossible” to meet. Yes, those things happen all the time. But whose fault is it? Management for forcing an unrealistic budget on you from the start? The customer for demanding a delivery timeline that you know is not possible to meet? I do understand some situations where there is no room to budget on those items and you move forward…just thinking we’ll start now and and ask for forgiveness later when the inevitable happens. But the onus is really on the project manager and team to call attention to the impossibles at the beginning of the project.

In the business world we are so quick to try to pass blame that it’s become easier to just try and fail and then point fingers and try to get sympathy or empathy. I’m not buying it. What is really lacking is boldness and leadership.

So why do projects fail?
In my opinion, and from my experiences, it really comes down to threes areas. Remember, these are our projects. We should be invested in them to the fullest. So keep that in mind as you read through these…

  • Lack of ownership by the delivery team. We can’t control everything, but we can certainly own what we can control. And that is always the expectation of the project managers who are managing the company’s projects. They “own it.” Success or failure – they are at the helm. If something is needed for the project then it is the PM’s responsibility to go out and get it or at least ask for it or demand it. No one else is to blame here – it’s the PM’s job.
  • Lack of leadership by the project manager. Likewise, leadership is required. The PM can’t go around whining about the team being out of control. Well, they can, but they would be in denial that the real problem is their own ability to earn and retain project team member respect and following. The onus for that is on the project manager. And if he does everything he can to make that happen and it just isn’t working, then it is still his responsibility to raise the flag that he needs to replace the rogue resource and the push to make that happen. He can sit and wait if it is slow in happening, but he will still be blamed for the project failure so in reality he better be pretty proactive in making that switch happen.
  • Things outside of our control. And now for everything else. Yes, some things can come up that are completely outside of the PM’s control. If you are running projects from Las Vegas it isn’t likely that a flood will occur so if one does its easy to see why the PM maybe didn’t plan for that. But even then it’s still their project and blame will fall to the project manager. Things outside of the PM’s control can be frustrating, but it doesn’t override their need and responsibility to own the success and failure for the entire project.

You can blame others or you can step up and raise the flag from the beginning if you know that your project isn’t going to meet deadline ‘x’ or budget ‘y’. Or if other issues or assumptions appear to be too great to overcome early on. The wrong thing to do is to hope it just works out and move forward and hoping that if it all fails you can pass that blame on at the end of the engagement.

Readers…what are your thoughts on these three major underlying contributors to project failure? Do you agree? What would you add to the list?


brad-egelandBrad Egeland is a 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 is married, a father of 11, and living in sunny Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad’s project management blog.




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