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Why Projects Fail And What Should You Do When It Happens?

Chances are you’ve been part of a failed project.

If you haven’t, boy, you’re golden.

But you’d better beware.

Because it could happen to you.

Each year, companies around the world face astronomical project failure rates. Owners and CEOs end up spending millions of dollars per failed project and sometimes even flop in the process.

And, let me tell you, there’s not a single, one-size-fits-all method to manage projects to success. Mainly because every person manages projects differently.

What I’m trying to say here is that it all depends on yourself, your team, and your company.

However, regardless of your situation, there is a standard set of related actions you can take if your projects fail.

Keep in mind that no project is fail proof, but you can always plan to prevent or mitigate the effects.

Take a look at this list. It summarizes some of the things you can do to prevent failure.

  • Select and utilize the right tools for the job
  • Recruit and maintain an adequate workforce
  • Promote efficient and effective communication tools
  • Define and collect metrics to support project decision-making

But if a summary is not enough for you, come with me and let’s dive deeper into the actions you can take to make sure your projects stay on the line.

Let’s start!

This Article Talks About

  • Why Do Projects Fail?
  • What To Do When Projects Fail?
  • How To Take Project Failure

Why Do Projects Fail?

Project failure can happen to anyone. It’s happened to me, and it will happen to you eventually.

The good thing is that the more educated you are, the less prone to suffer from a catastrophic failure decreases.

But, as I said, sometimes failure is out of control. And if it happens, don’t attempt a quick fix because more often than not, this failure presents as a previous symptom your company was feeling.

For instance, let’s take a look at this graph from McKinsey.

Now you can see what my previous words about failure being a symptom meant. Project failure is not an isolated symptom but a number of things that affect your organization deeper than you could’ve thought.

The purpose of project management is to produce a successful product or service. Often, this goal is hindered by human error. Errors of omission and commission made by everyone, from CEOs to team members affect your business and cost money.

At these are all fixable, and you don’t need costly consultants or shiny, new software.

In fact, it requires you to focus on the first of the three P’s: People.

I’m talking about people here. Forget human error. Let’s talk about how focusing on your people will help you avert failure.

Bear with me here, as we’ll go further into the causes of project failure.

Read below and see what the most important people-related causes of project failure are.

  • Lack of motivation
  • Undefined responsibilities
  • Inconsistent methodology
  • Unclear accountability and success criteria

Are you still with me?


So, while these four might seem obvious, we often lose the visibility over our people and start believing we’re all in the same page, and, sadly, it’s often the opposite.

Besides, it’s not even reasonable to assume that we all understand things the same.

Provide your team members with the tools they need to succeed and empower them to find success.

Many people on a project will know you only through your emails and your voice. This means you have to make sure you’re communicating your ideas properly.

This means you have to cut the crap and become an assertive communicator.

There’s no more effective way to be on the same page with your team than to have your entire team come together for a planning session. This enables everyone to not only work together but also to bond as a team.

And trust me, bonding is essential to avoid project failure.

Now you know you have to nurture your teams to avoid project failure, but, how do you do it?

Let’s get down to business, then.

How To Avoid Project Failure

First off, start by exercising your active listening skills.

Project team members have a voice and will want to share their views about the project’s troubles. They’d probably have insights about how things got to the point they are and suggestions for fixes.

Just don’t let the commentaries burden you.

Listen to what they have to say, but remember that time is of the essence if your project is going off-rails.

Create a “safe space” for your collaborators to share their opinions, but keep the discussion focused on solving issues.

To do that, you need to have all your data in place because, otherwise, the conversation could simply become a witch hunt, or worse, a goose chase.

Second, use data to structure your projects and the people around it.

Remember that many brooks make a great river. Keep projects small and clear. It’s better to view projects like programs consisting of small projects not exceeding six months in duration.

This will allow you to leverage your regular project management skills and style while ensuring that you can contain project problems and recalibrate without affecting the overall process.

And I’m not the only one who thinks like that.

This Gartner report highlights that most projects can find their way back home simply with improved communications.

Every part of your project needs to be in sync. By maintaining close ties with your team and every part of the project, you can improve your success rates while keeping your team happy and productive.

The same goes for other stakeholders. Instead of running for cover once a project has consumed a lot of money and effort, keep everybody in the loop and involved with the project.

That way, in case of failure or difficulties every part of the project can come together and rethink the project.

Remember, transparency and accountability are simply the best way to avoid nasty surprises.

How To Take Project Failure

The best way to take failure?

Two words:

Be ready.

Ask yourself a tough question:

Could my business take a hit?

If the answer is negative, start by reassessing the weakest links in your chain.

Break big projects down into manageable chunks and. Strengthen your three P’s and test your readiness. Prepare for every scenario and recognize the unavoidable risks behind your projects.

And, last, remember that failure will happen. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it won’t happen.

Believing your projects are invulnerable, ironclad machines won’t do you any good.

Even worse, it could blind you from real failure.

Rely on your people and your processes, but be ready to change things around when the need arises.

On the other hand, if your business can, or has taken one or many hits, learn from your mistakes.

Past failures shouldn’t be swept under the rug; instead, learn your lessons. Go back to the basics and see where your company needs some adjustments.

Start with your people. Check up on them and take it from there.

Seek for internal causes of failure and only then go outside for answers.

Crises and failure can be great teachers, but we need to become great listeners first.