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Why Projects Fail

2020-05-28

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v1.0.0

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Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

There is a large number of reports, books and articles that research and summarize the reasons, why projects fail. As my own research has concluded, these reasons fall into the following categories:

  1. Unrealistic project objectives, budgets or time frames.
  2. Poor project management and a lack of transparency in the project.
  3. Wrong choice of project methodology.
  4. Low project management competence or absence of the required skills.
  5. Unclear objectives, missing result expectations or poor quality management.
  6. Inadequate organization and adverse incentive mechanisms.
  7. Poor team management, inhomogeneous teams, or low motivation.
  8. Adverse context or environment without management or support.

Even though there is a large number of training and educational courses, seminars, or certifications programs around, project failures, reduced scopes, time and budget overruns can still be frequently observed.

One reason why projects fail may certainly be the ever increasing complexity of projects. In contrast, I have the hypothesis that the used project control instruments often are simply not good enough. In fact, I assume that project control may too a large degree be a forgotten or ill-defined discipline. A lot of people get educated to be project managers, but only a few become project controllers even though the skill set may be as demanding. As a result, a project may lack a rigorous project control, does not show the required project discipline, not have the necessary issue transparency and lose the overview of the performed quality assurance.

Furthermore, if regular status reporting does not exist or is too poor, the information need of stakeholders in the project cannot be satisfied. As a result, stakeholders such as customers, executives, investors, or other managers request ad-hoc information from the project management. Answering such requests, usually not only binds the capacity of the project manager but also of the people that work in the project team. Instead of manageing the project and developing it further, all of a sudden the project manager becomes an ad-hoc reporter. The worse a project develops the more of such requests take place and make it sometimes impossible to bring the project back up to speed.

Project Management and Project Control

Whenever a situation is too detached from a person’s observations, too difficult to oversee, or too complex to evaluate, people need support in form of extra information to make proper decisions. No pilot would dare to enter an aeroplane, spaceship or rocket without a proper set of control instruments. Yet a lot of project managers embark on a project without proper project control. Personally, I find this quite counter-intuitive. Astonishingly, there is also little coverage of project control in the relevant literature and how to make project control operational.

To avoid project failure, project management should start with setting up a proper project control process, that specifies which information is really meaningful and which information is only blurring the report. Good reporting only has one purpose: to trigger project management actions, organizational activities and decision taking.

Criteria for good project control have been suggested in the 10 Commandments of Project Control. Starting with proper project control will usually payoff rather fast, because it makes the project transparent and generates the basis for every involved person to work into the same direction, because everybody has the same information.


© Prof. Dr. Ulrich Anders

prof.anders@online.de

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