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:
- Unrealistic project objectives, budgets or time frames.
- Poor project management and a lack of transparency in the project.
- Wrong choice of project methodology.
- Low project management competence or absence of the required skills.
- Unclear objectives, missing result expectations or poor quality management.
- Inadequate organization and adverse incentive mechanisms.
- Poor team management, inhomogeneous teams, or low motivation.
- 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
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.