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Project Management: Why Projects Fail

Instructor: Lucinda Stanley

Lucinda has taught business and information technology and has a PhD in Education.

In this lesson, we will consider what project management is and what constitutes good project management. Then, we will identify and discuss reasons why projects fail.

Project Management Basics

Before we can discuss why projects fail, we should probably take a look at what project management is and what makes it successful. Project management is very simply the analysis of what needs to be done (initiation), the design and development of a plan to accomplish the goal (planning and design), the implementation of the plan (execution), the evaluation of the project as the plan is implemented (monitoring and controlling) and finally the completion of the project (closing).

Project Management Process
Project Management Process

Project managers are responsible for keeping track of a team of people who are working to complete the objective. For example, a typical remodeling construction job, like replacing old windows, requires project management. The project manager needs to coordinate the measuring of the old windows, order the new windows, find a crew to do the work, arrange wood wrapping on the outside of the replacement windows, and, finally, coordinate the cleanup of the job site. A great project manager will know what to pay attention to and what to ignore. The project manager will evaluate the project frequently, listen to stakeholders, adhere to schedules, have expertise, be able to coordinate a consensus, and have a network of people to draw on to complete the project. There are even tools that help project managers to do their jobs, from GANTT charts to project management specific software. So, this all seems like common sense, right? Then why do projects fail?

Reasons Projects Fail

Let's talk about what project failure means. Projects fail when the final product is not delivered, or when the final product did not meet the expectations of the client in terms of what was required, the cost, the quality, or the time it took to complete. What are some of the reasons this could happen?

Poor Requirements

It could be that the project was doomed from the start because of unclear project objectives. Perhaps the client wasn't specific enough in what they were looking for. If a the client just says, 'I'd like the windows in my house replaced,' but doesn't specify which windows, or what they want the windows replaced with, the project manager could have one vision what is being asked of them while the client could have another vision. Another side of this is called scope creep. This is when the client indicates what they want initially, then makes changes or additional requirements. For example, the client initially wants six windows replaced and then once the job gets started decides to replace another six windows.

Lack of Supervision

It could be that the person in charge of the project doesn't have a lot of, or any, experience managing projects and may be ill equipped to coordinate the people who are working on the project. The project manager may not know how to communicate effectively with the client and the team. Perhaps, in the case of the window replacement, the project manager failed to plan well and then didn't bother to see how the project was coming along.

Lack of Resources

It could be that the project manager doesn't have access to all of the resources necessary to do the job as specified. In the case of the window replacement, if the project manager takes on too many jobs that use the same people or resources, his resources could be over extended and each job could fail to meet the time requirement.

Unrealistic Expectations

It could be that the client's expectations were unrealistic or the project manager took on a project without allowing for unforeseen circumstances. In the case of our window replacement job, what if the client thought the job should be able to be completed in a day and the project manager agreed, but then discovered the windows the client wants are a custom job or it rained for two weeks straight.

Project failure

Minimizing Project Failure

It looks like there are a lot of reasons why a project could fail. So, what can we do to minimize the likelihood of project failure?

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