Why do projects fail?

One of the first questions I ask on a course on a Monday morning is ‘why do projects fail’.  It’s quite often my favorite question of the week as well!  It still amazes me no matter how many times I ask the question it is always the same answers that I receive back from the delegates.

PRINCE2 has been around for over 30 years and has over 1,500,000 certified users. So, let’s have a look at some of the most common reasons why projects fail and what PRINCE2 can do to help.

Lack of Communication

How often in an organization could we say that ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hands doing!’.  That’s even truer in larger organizations.  Or just that members of the Project Team don’t know who and how to communicate with other members of the team or other project stakeholders.  I always say a lack of communication is one of the key reasons why projects fail.

Communication in a project environment is crucial.  As a Project Manager, we need to know who is a stakeholder in our project and what their information requirements are.  Also, how best to communicate with other stakeholders.

Well in PRINCE2 during the initiation stage we will prepare the Communication Management Strategy.  This allows us to perform a Stakeholder Analysis and then also document how and when we should communicate in the project.

Lack of Change Control

Projects are about change.  So, projects themselves will change from the plans we set out at the beginning.  That’s absolutely fine.  PRINCE2 likes change as long as it is done in a controlled manner.  A term that is widely used in project management is ‘scope creep’.  I am sure we have all come across projects where timescales and costs have spiraled. Quite often simply down to adding to the project without taking the time to look at the impact of the change.  The next thing we know costs are out of control and the project is taking longer to complete.

To help us control change PRINCE2 gives us a 5-step issue and change control procedure to follow when a change is requested.  Covered in the Change theme this procedure allows us to make informed decisions on whether a Request for Change should be approved.

Roles and Responsibilities are not properly defined

One of the PRINCE2 principles is that a project should have Defined Roles and Responsibilities.  People should know what their role in the project is and what their responsibilities are.  This stops the hands being put up in the air and saying, ‘nothing to do with me’ or ‘I thought such and such was dealing with that’ when something happens in the project.

The PRINCE2 organization theme discusses the roles in the project management team and the PRINCE2 manual provides generic role descriptions for each.

Lack of planning

It amazes me how many times organizations just jump in and undertake a project without asking some basic questions about what the project is to deliver, what is required and how long or how much will it cost.  Then wonder why their projects fail!  From my experience, I’ve quite often found organizations didn’t have the time to ask these questions and put plans in place but always seemed to find the time to fix things when they went wrong because they hadn’t been planned in the first place.

PRINCE2 is very big on putting some time in up front to ask questions and document what, when, how etc. we are going to do in the project.  The first two processes in PRINCE2 support this – Starting Up a Project where we are really looking to see if we have a good or bad idea then Initiating a Project where we get into the detail before we decide to Authorize the Project.  The Plans theme gives us a planning procedure to follow including a great technique to scope the project – the Product Based Planning technique.

So, I’ve touched on a few common reasons why projects fail (there are plenty more!) but hopefully you can begin to see how PRINCE2 reduces the chances of project failure.