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Why Do Projects Fail


Imran Zaman

Every project manager would like to see his or her project win acclaim as a great success. Nobody sets out to fail, but some projects do go down in flames. When this happens, it's tempting to push the dead-on-arrival project under the carpet and hurry on, but it's smarter to take a careful look at the project and figure out what went wrong so similar problems can be avoided in the future. There are several factors that can kill a project faster than arsenic poisoning.

Poor communication/Poor leadership

It's the leader's job to make sure senior management and team members are all on board with the project and that all know their responsibilities. However, a leader may make vague assignments and not follow up with the team again until the project is almost due. That's a sure-fire recipe for failure.


You may know exactly what you're doing to guide your project team to victory. The problem is, your boss doesn't know, and he or she keeps popping up with impractical orders and changes that don't make sense. Trying to please a micromanaging boss is a common reason projects fail.

Vague Objectives

A project can't succeed if you don't know exactly what its objective is. Objectives should be quantifiable so that anyone evaluating the project can easily see whether or not it met its goals. For instance, instead of "make customers happy" an objective goal might be, "improve customer service satisfaction by ten percent."

The project grows too big and unwieldy

This is also known as the "creep" syndrome and the "oh, by the way" syndrome. We've all been there. A project starts out with a clear objective such as keep track of client spending trends. Then another manager suggests that the project should encompass the company's buying trends as well. Before long, another manager wants it to keep track of client credit ratings. Soon the revised project looks nothing like the one that was initially conceived, the project manager has lost control, and failure is imminent.

The team is wrong

Sometimes the team selected for a project simply don't have the knowledge and skills necessary to complete it, even with strong leadership. Being able to evaluate the team at periodical intervals and replacing people that continue to underperform or don't have the necessary people skills to lead others will ensure the job is done more efficiently.


A final reason projects fail is that the bosses ignore early warning signals. Projects don't fly high one moment and come crashing down around you the next. There are always early signs that something isn't right, such as being over budget or failing to meet deadlines. The good manager catches these problems early, addresses them, and starts planning to save the project. The poor manager ignores warning signals until the project is beyond hope.

There are many reasons why a project may fail, but a strong leader can help avoid many of these pitfalls and lead his or her project to success.

© Copyright Imran Zaman, DAYWATCHER.COM 2009-13. All Rights Reserved.

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