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Why do projects fail?

There must be a good reason why all these projects fail.  There is; in fact, there are many factors that contribute to project failure.  The UK Office of Government Commerce did a study that shows the main reasons that projects fail are:

  • lack of clear executive leadership (the ‘missing’ Sponsor)
  • poor processes for identifying and managing risks associated with the project
  • a gap between the Project team, often with technical expertise, and the rest of the business, who often don’t understand the nitty gritty details
  • failure to take into account and manage the fact that humans naturally dislike change and the impact this has on business processes and people
  • project durations that stretch over a year, as the business environment evolves rapidly.

Technology was one of the least likely reasons for project failure.  This shows us that the human implications of change are far more important than any IT system design.

There is plenty of academic research into why projects fail, and the opposite: what makes projects a success.  What is missing in the project management profession is a willingness for organisations to talk about why individual projects fail.  There is a difference to filling in an anonymous questionnaire for someone working in academia and coming out in public with details about why your project was a disaster.  Many of the case studies about project failure are publicly funded projects, which are accountable to taxpayers: the majority of the list in section 3 above are public projects.  The audit reports and inquiries are available for anyone to read, and while they are often on a big scale, there is a lot managers of projects of any size can learn from them.


Read my definitive guide to project success criteria to help you get your project off to the best start.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Alan Jelley says

    25 February, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    I’m interested in your comment “There is plenty of academic research into why projects fail, and the opposite: what makes projects a success.”

    I have a son who is doing a dissertation and he seems to be struggling to find the sort of academic information that you are commenting on. .. there is lots of commercial / personal opinions type information readily accessible but he seems to be struggling with the research type data sources. Is it possible that you could give me a couple of pointers of where to look ?

    Many thanks

  2. Craig Brown says

    17 October, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Why is it that project teams never fess up to it being their fault?

    Projects fail becasue too many people don’t sweat the hard stuff (communicating effectively.)


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