Reasons for Project Failure

Identifying the potentially challenged projects before it’s too late can save your project from failure

Project failures can be inherently crippling for any business or organisation, whether in terms of missed opportunities, wasted funds and resources, or public relations nightmares.

Inadequate monitoring is often cited as the reason for not identifying potentially challenged projects before it’s too late to take corrective actions, or to make appropriate decisions.

Project status are regularly presented as Green, Amber or Red:


  • Green – On track and going well
  • Amber – Possibly under stress
  • Red – In danger

Reasons for Project Failure

For projects rated Amber or Red, it is also vital to be able to explain precisely why the status is not Green.

Relying on intuition and gut feelings is not going to provide suitable information to help executives and stakeholders make informed, and sometimes difficult, decisions about what to do next.

It is obviously preferable to identify when projects enter Amber status, (and before they reach Red status), as soon as possible. Once it is understood exactly why the status is Amber (or Red), then necessary decisions can be made on what changes are needed to return the projects back to Green before it’s too late.

Identifying the problems

Common signs that indicate a project is in trouble.

While all projects are considered unique and different, there are several common signals that can provide good indications a project is in stress.

  • Too much firefighting – Firefighting can impact the focus of the projects manager shifting from important aspects.
  • Too much overtime – Project members are possibly too distracted and unable to meet deadlines. Maybe they are unable to meet their challenges or involved in too much firefighting or being diverted to other projects.
  • Missed Milestones – Constantly missing deadlines is an obvious indication of project in stress.
  • Too many changes being forwarded – Change is inevitable, especially if the duration of a project is considerable. However, too frequent change control meetings in order to submit changes for acceptance to the change control board, especially too many scope changes could be an indication of serious issues likely to affect project time, resources, and budget.
  • Issues Log not growing as expected – If the issues log does not grow as expected, it may be that team members are not reporting issues (or missing meetings).
  • Stakeholder too quiet or unavailable for sign-offs – This can be a sign that your stakeholders are not as engaged in the project as they should be.
  • The financial team asking too many questions or seeking additional information – Finance people can often have an uncanny ability to detect project problems.

Detecting the problems rather than identifying them

Being able to detect that a project is likely to get into trouble before the signs are visible is preferable

Very experienced Project Managers can sense problems, and detect when something is going amiss. They understand the need to engage the project team, the sponsor, and key stakeholders and to listen for indicators that may be of concern. They encourage the team to share their knowledge and impressions and ensure bad news is openly and quickly addressed.

However, few project managers will have had the opportunity to obtain that acute sense of pending problems and a more reliable, objective and consistent method is required.

Businesses and organisations generally have a myriad of simultaneous projects running, of varying priority, size, and complexity. The experience of the project managers will be widely varied, and often many of them will be managing several projects simultaneously.

Larger organisations tend to have a Project Management Office (PMO), that will prescribe methodologies including project assurance processes designed to keep projects on track and attempt to detect problems proactively.

These methodologies can however be cumbersome and very manual processes with high administrative overheads, often not sustainable without suitable budgets and experienced assessors.

Reasons for Project Failure 1

Contact True Assessments today for an initial consult to discuss how our Business Assessments Tools can assist you to identify projects at risk of failure.