Why Projects Succeed or Fail

Why projects succeed or fail? Whether a project succeeds or fails, the organization will reap the rewards of positive outcome or have to deal with the consequences of failure. A project may be cancelled in order to minimize losses, particularly if the project is no longer relevant or not able to deliver the expected value. A project cancelled for this reason may not be considered a failure. A value or profit driven organization understands that the success of a project requires the collaborative effort and commitments of the stakeholders.


The beginning of a project is usually about laying the foundation for the project success. Most projects that succeed or fail occur at the beginning, and failure can be prevented if warning signals are not ignored or swept under the carpet. However, there are instances where projects fail during the implementation phase due to various reasons such as poor handling and lack of stakeholders’, particularly the executives’, support. The following list is not exhaustive but provides some insight into why projects succeed or fail.


Why Projects Succeed?

Projects success could be attributed to various factors, including the following:

  • Projects aligned with the strategic organization goals and with full executive commitment and support.
  • Committed, skilled, adaptable and resourceful professional project teams and members who take responsibilities for assigned work packages, activities and tasks, and prepared to work as a team.
  • Well initiated projects that have clearly defined and formally approved terms of reference.
  • Well managed and executed projects based on realistic planning.
  • Adopt respectful debates to resolve problems, issues and conflicts.
  • Establishment of a service oriented project team and a supportive governance.
  • Relevant, regular and timely communication with the stakeholders on progress status, performance, issues and outcomes.
  • Good and complementary practices across the organization. These practices will be discussed further in the future sections.

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Why Projects Fail?

Project failure could be attributed to the following – people, product design, decision making, partnership, supplier and project management discipline problems.

  • Excessive politics: This may involve taking steps that are not aligned with the organization strategic goals. For example, implementing a project that makes the team performance looks better but put the organization at a disadvantage. Some executives promote personal interests rather than initiatives that promote the organizational growth and competitiveness. This could occur in organizations where they are not held accountable by stakeholders and shareholders. It could sometimes be due to principal-agent or conflict of interest problem. These situations may not occur in a service oriented organization, where team performance is tied to the organization success.
  • Lack of executive commitment and/or sponsorship; lack of clear vision, enthusiasm, will and focus, as well as conflicting and unrealistic priorities. Do not commit scarce resources to a project if you are not sure of its relevance to the organization strategic goals.
  • Ineffective governance and lack of shared responsibility and accountability. This could be caused by lousy project management, absence of leadership discipline or lack of executive commitment to providing needed support in resolving escalated issues in a timely fashion.
  • Battle of egos and unhealthy competition: Particularly with problem solving, issues and conflict resolutions. Battle of ego is sometimes caused by the desire of team members to outshine one another. Some project team members or stakeholders do not realize how transient their role is either on a project or even in an operational environment. When project team members realize that they are just fulfilling a transient role which could change with future assignments, battle of ego problem may diminish.
  • Undervalued work force: Unfair treatment of the organization’s workforce or project resource could be devastating for the whole organization. This is not a problem in a truly service oriented organization, where the main focus of everyone in the organization and their performance is solely based on results.
  • Indecisive and unprofessional project managers: Sometimes, some project managers fail to show courage, decisiveness and tenacity to get things done even in the face of adversity. Successful project managers show good judgment and are decisive, tenacious and result driven.
  • Unrealistic expectations and assigning insufficient and/or incapable resources to projects. Resource assignment impacts the amount of effort, cost and quality of outcome. Inadequate and incapable resources could result in project delivery failure or unnecessary delay.
  • Blame culture and lack of shared ownership:In organizations where blame culture is a common practice, project team members, particularly the junior members, are afraid to be creative and take risks that could enhance the project team performance and deliver positive outcome.

Above factors key reasons why projects succeed or fail

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