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Project Management – What Can Go Wrong, and How to Avoid It!
By John R Wade

How many projects fail? Depends on where you look…

There’s a common perception that most projects fail – although funnily enough statistics are somewhat vague. Given that few businesses want to admit to failure, the data are probably flawed, although anecdotally we all know that too many do…

So here’s a few reasons for those failures, and some thoughts on how to manage them – it’s not a definitive list, and a brief Google search will give you more and countless examples. This is a synopsis of some:

  1. Unclear objectives: if the project team don’t really know what the organisation really wants, it’ll be tough to determine how to succeed. Getting these right helps enormously, and as I’ve blogged before, often clarifies what is too often a surprisingly vague view of senior management. Get a Project Definition Document and get it agreed by the Project Sponsor. If you don’t have one, look at problem #3.
  2. Changed objectives: so many times, these change, meaning rework and different processes, analysis, methodologies, team requirements, and sometimes even suppliers. Visibly using and enforcing the PDD mentioned above allows you to ensure you get a Request for Change signed off by the Project Sponsor, and helps ensure those eventually paying for the work has a better sense of the impact of later changes on project costs, timescales and the ultimate quality of delivery.

  3. Poor Governance: every project needs at least three levels of authority and contribution. For more on team and responsibilities, see my earlier blog (details below) – and be sure that your organization has a Board level Sponsor, else you will suffer from a lack of focus and resource due to others looking to the areas where the Board does have influence.

  4. Insufficient budget: there’s an obvious relationship often missed by senior management – not enough money means something will eventually give. Ensure you have a separately funded budget line and have the sponsor made aware of scoping problems early enough to do something about them.

  5. Insufficient people: either of the right number, the right experience, or the right capability. Make sure you have a good mix of experience, enthusiasm and energy, and make your sponsor is aware of resource issues and the consequences. These might include overrunning time, undermining quality, and probably burning people out.

  6. Inadequate time: as noted above,the three common pillars of a project are time, cost and quality, and time is probably the factor which impinges most on a successful project. Everything takes time and not everyone sees how it is spent – especially with larger projects which mean time spent on different parts with different teams and people, so visibility becomes an issue. Talk to those who need to know often enough that issues are reported early.

  7. Inadequate analysis: pressure can be brought to bear for early visible results, and so Project Managers feel the need to solve the issue and implement that solution – before ensuring a full enough understanding of the issue and consequences. Talk to those who know the problem before making the call on the options available, and the hypotheses which support the answer.

The answers?

There’s a great deal around communication – to the right people, at the right time, with the right information and a proposed solution.

However, more appropriately, use the right management methodology and ensure planned objectives, organized actions – and a record of progress and the obstacles, brought to the Project Sponsor whenever the project is in danger of failure.

These views and their potential solutions won’t always save a project. However, whilst the listed challenges will increase the chances of failing, the suggestions ought to reduce the probability of failure.

John Wade ( Oakview Consulting Ltd) is an experienced business leader with particular expertise in Project Management, with a portfolio of successfully run projects from a range of industries. He has a strong background in professional and financial services, and the Not for Profit sector. He has a particular interest in Change Management, figuring that people will make or break a project depending on their reaction, involvement, engagement, and desire.

As a fully qualified Project Manager, John has led projects, approved and assessed projects, and acted as Project Assurance on many occasions. He has also trained Project Managers, coaching and mentoring them through difficulties. His background includes rescuing projects, too.

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