Why Do Projects Fail? We Asked the Experts

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In the third of our four-part blog series, Cora asks a number of project management experts why everyone is talking about project management. In this edition, we ask why projects fail.


Not all projects succeed, however. According to a study by Geneca, 75% of IT executives believe their projects are “doomed from the start”, which is a rather startling revelation.

In this blog John McGrath, a project management consultant with 20 years of experience and a professor in the discipline at several universities, including Brunel University London, says that having a tough attitude when it comes to selecting whether a project should proceed or not is critical.

“The one area you have to be absolutely ruthless with in your organisation is project selection,” he says. “What happens is that an organisation selects projects on the basis of who proposes them – not on the business case.

“I can guarantee that if I walked into a corporation and asked, ‘Can I see all projects that were proposed at director level with full project initiation, with full business-case documentation that were rejected as they weren’t a sound project?’ I’d be told, ‘We don’t have any.’

“Senior people don’t have to suggest projects the way other people do. They just say: ‘We’re going to do this project.’ The one thing we saw in the financial crash in 2008 was the mistakes senior people made in decision-making. It’s vital you address this issue.”

Kyle Wills who works out of Pennsylvania, USA as a global director – portfolio management for DSM Biomedical, a large life sciences corporation said “When I look back at the projects that have failed in our organisation, I see some common elements. The main reasons for us include scope creep, inadequate change control, and changing business/market needs. Our business model depends on customers and strategic partners to sell the products we make to the end user, so when a partner requests a feature or additional work, it is all too easy for our project teams to oblige them, but often without updating the scope statement or the statement of work. Each change on its own may be small, but collectively, those additional requests add up to longer development times and, ultimately, longer time to market.”

“Also, since the development of a medical device can take multiple years, we can look back at several instances and see that by the time we launched a product, the market had already started to shift to other technologies and consequently, we would never be able to achieve the business case that was originally envisioned. In other instances, we found that from the start, the business case was overstated or overly optimistic.”

Other Posts in the Series:

Read Part 4: “What are the keys to successful project management?” here.

Read Part 2: “What skills are required for effective project management?” here.

Read Part 1: “Why has project management become a cornerstone of corporate strategy?” here.


Further Insights

Learn more about Cora Systems Enterprise Project Software here.

Tune in to our most recent Project Management Paradise Podcast episodes available on Spotify and Apple.

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