8 Reasons for project failure (+ solutions)

There are a number of reasons why a project might fail. But, the good news is that there are ways to avoid disappointment and carry any project through to the end. 

In this article, we name the 8 most frequent reasons for project failure and also provide advice on how to avoid it. 

8 reasons for project failure - cover

When is a project considered a failure?

A project is considered a failure if it does not meet its goals within the previously defined time frame, resources, and requirements. 

The repercussions of project failure may be more or less severe. They can cause low team morale and customer dissatisfaction and also put the organization at risk which can result in redundancies.   

However, the team whose project failed should think about the reasons that led to failure and how they can avoid repeating the same outcome on their next project. 

8 Reasons why projects fail — and how to avoid it

Projects never fail out of the blue — there is always a good reason behind it. In the following lines, we will explain the most common reasons behind project failure and what you can do to prevent them.

Reason #1: Unclear goals and objectives

Unclear goals and objectives are some of the major issues that lead to project failure. 

If your team members are not sure what they’re working toward, you can expect the project to fall into pieces. 

Without clear goals and objectives, your team will lose enthusiasm for the project as they won’t be sure if they’re on the right track. 

In other words — you cannot reach the destination if you don’t know what it is.

How to prevent unclear goals and objectives

A project manager is the person expected to come up with a precise project plan. The plan should include clear goals and deadlines and define each member’s role on the project. 

In addition to that, a manager needs to plan for resources, assess key risks, and establish project communication channels. 

One way to make sure your team is clear on the project objectives is to follow the S.M.A.R.T. criteria for your goals — i.e. to make them:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Attainable,
  • Relevant, and
  • Time-bound.

Also, it is always useful to have a project checklist to make sure everything’s going as planned. 

💡 Plaky Pro Tip

If you want to learn more about how to define S.M.A.R.T. goals, check out our blog post on the subject:

Reason #2: Lack of resource planning 

Resource planning is a serious task that takes careful thought and consideration. Some of the most important resources to consider include: 

  • Manpower,
  • Budget,
  • Time,
  • Equipment, and
  • Office space. 

Having to think about so many factors is a considerable project management challenge.

A manager can encounter various problems with resources, including: 

With a lack of resource planning, project progress will be jeopardized. 

Luckily, there is a solution.

How to prevent a lack of resource planning

It is always good to plan your resources in advance and keep track of them in one place. This way, you will be able to prevent resource issues. Resource tracking is easily done with task management software which keeps everything centralized.

But, if resource problems do arise, try not to panic. 

Set up a meeting with your team and grapple with the problem together. 

If you need more staff, check if you can borrow people from another department. 

In case you need to go over budget, prepare to negotiate a budget extension with the stakeholders. 

Reason #3: Poor communication across the organization

The need to communicate has always been important in project management and has been proven to be vital in recent years due to the popularization of remote work. US Census Bureau released a survey showing that between 2019 and 2021,  the number of people working from home tripled.    

After all, only when you effectively share information, news, and data, can you be aware of how the project is progressing. 

A lack of communication across the organization can have serious consequences for project success. People get stressed as they lack important project information and lose enthusiasm for work. Consequently, they miss deadlines, the project goes off the rails, and it fails in the end.

So, how can you prevent this?

How to prevent poor communication across the organization

You should set up the rules of project communication at the very start of the project. Each team member should know when to report, to whom, and what channel to use. 

Whether you use email, video calls, shared documents, or a team chat app, it is essential everyone gets the necessary information in time so that they can have their own work done. 

What’s more, team members should feel free to share any troubles, dilemmas, and even chit-chat with their colleagues. 

All this builds trust within the team and makes it more likely people will discuss project issues as soon as they arise — and find solutions together.

Reason #4: Scope creep

Scope creep describes a situation when a project manager is asked to make some additional changes, which usually affect the budget and time scales. Some of the possible causes behind it include the following: 

  • Your team might want to keep making small changes due to a lack of preparation
  • Stakeholders insist on changes with the aim of pleasing a client 
  • Late feedback from end-users
  • Poor communication among team members
  • Poor management skills

As a result, you go over budget, miss deadlines, and your team gets overworked. The project is on the road to failure.

This is one of the most dreaded scenarios a project manager might face. Nevertheless, there are ways to prevent the negative outcome.

How to prevent scope creep

Better safe than sorry is a saying that applies well here. 

The best course of action to prevent scope creep is the following: 

  • Carefully define the project scope at the very beginning. 
  • Document the project scope and send it to all the stakeholders for a review and approval. 

This way, you will prevent others from making changes and make everyone stick to the agreed terms.

In case you do need to make changes, try to analyze the budget, deadlines, and key risks beforehand.  

Reason #5: Unrealistic due dates

As a project manager, your main challenge is to set deadlines and make sure your team sticks to the plan. 

Sounds easy, right? 

However, it often isn’t.

It’s as Brian Tracy, an author and motivational speaker, says: “There are no unrealistic goals, only unrealistic deadlines”

The above project management quote is an excellent one to introduce the problem of unrealistic due dates.

Clients often want projects to be done quickly and cheaply. Furthermore, company management may attract a client by promising an impossible-to-meet deadline. 

It is easy to fall under the influence of your superiors and clients and make wrong estimates based on their wishes and not on your own management experience.

How to prevent unrealistic due dates

Setting deadlines does not depend only on the team in charge of the project. Deadlines may also depend on: 

  • Stakeholders, 
  • Suppliers, 
  • Distributors, 
  • Legal team, and others.

To set viable deadlines, you need to communicate with everyone involved in the project and be as transparent as possible. 

Voice your concerns, explain if certain demands are impossible to meet, and clarify why you decided on a particular deadline. 

Talk about the risks of unrealistic requests and make sure you hold your ground and defend your project plan.  

Reason #6: Project manager inexperience

A project manager is a person who leads a particular project and makes sure the agreed goals are reached, deadlines are met, and clients, stakeholders, and team members are satisfied. 

Yet, many modern companies do not have project managers as such. Instead, they appoint a well organized consultant or a person familiar with the technical side of the project to do this important task. 

This might end up being a good decision, and the person might succeed in sailing in these uncharted waters — but it is always better to have a proper project manager to head the project.

How to deal with project manager inexperience

It is certainly favorable for a company to have a project manager who possesses both knowledge and experience. 

But, what should you do if you are an inexperienced project manager fresh out of college or if you are suddenly thrown into this position by your superiors?

You have to be ready to extend your knowledge and learn from your mistakes. If you are not sure about some decisions, do not hesitate to ask for advice. 

Another method of gaining experience is through internships, junior roles, and studying with the aim of acquiring project management certificates

The point is to never stop learning and constantly seek opportunities to advance your knowledge and skills.

💡Plaky Pro Tip

If you want to learn more about how to get project experience, read this blog post:

Reason #7: Not paying attention to project warning signs

In the early 1990s, PepsiCo launched a type of clear cola named Crystal Pepsi. After the new product had been a hit at a limited market, CEO David Novak was confident that it would be a global success. 

Despite the initial interest in the new drink, sales figures started to drop. People returned to the original Pepsi flavor. 

Novak realized that he did not listen to his employees who advised him that Crystal Pepsi should taste more like its original version. If Novak had paid heed to this warning, the project with Crystal Pepsi would not have been considered one of the biggest failures of all time. 

The story of Crystal Pepsi is a good example of what can happen to a project if you do not pay attention to any warning signs. 

Despite having a fixed plan and due dates, various red lights can start blinking, and you should not disregard them.

How to deal with project warning signs

As you can see from the story above, project failures can happen even to the best if they ignore the red flags. 

Red flags can be different in nature 𑁋 tasks that overlap, missed deadlines or clients unsure about their expectations. 

If you want to be able to avoid red flags and deal with warning signs, try to identify what the problem is and what action should be taken. 

If tasks overlap, make some adjustments to the plan so that everyone is on the same page. In case your team misses a deadline, call a meeting to see why. And if clients are unsure what they want and try to make changes often, prevent this by stating the goals and procedures at the project set up. 

In order to avoid rushed work and frustrating delays which can lead to a failure, do not sweep signs under the rug. Stop at the first red light and do what it takes to turn it into green.

Reason #8: Choice of technology 

The development of technology and the offer of numerous solutions has helped many companies improve their workflow, operations, production and income. Having specialist software for your business is a prerequisite for successful work.  

In recent years, many software solutions have emerged to help those who manage projects.

There has been a growing need for tools that project managers can use to:

  • Incorporate their plans, deadlines and resources, 
  • Align teams, 
  • Get reports, 
  • Send notifications, and 
  • Connect different company units such as sales, HR, and marketing.

But, what technology should you use and how can you choose the right one?

How to choose the right technology

A project manager should be well aware of various task management platforms and their features. It is of great importance to have a proper tool that will ease your job and satisfy your needs. 

One of such tools is Plaky which is a free project and task management software. 

Plaky project management tool

This cloud-based app offers some outstanding features, such as:

  • Task management (which enables you to manage your tasks, assign them to team members, and apply color to any status or labels, for better transparency),
  • Team collaboration (this feature helps your team share files and updates, send notifications and make comments),
  • Progress tracking (enables you integrate with Clockify to track time spent on tasks, track activities and who has seen the board, and control what items to see), and
  • Administration (allows you to create workspaces for different teams, make boards, and manage permissions).

Plaky is an all-purpose tool which will certainly help any project manager organize work and coordinate the team.

Conclusion: Project failure is preventable if you know what to look out for

Project management is a complex discipline that encompasses a range of skills and techniques necessary to carry out a project. That is why the aim of this article was to elicit some of the most common reasons that cause project failure. 

Projects rarely go according to the initial plan, and complications occur whether you are ready or not. 

Now that you’re familiar with the most common causes of project failure and how to avoid them, you’ll be readier to prevent them and keep your project on track. 

✉️ Have you ever experienced a project failure? What was the reason for it? Were you able to do anything to prevent it? How did you solve the problem? If you have an interesting story to share with us, feel free to email us at blogfeedback@plaky.com and we may include your story in some of our future posts. If you know anyone who would find this text interesting, please share with them.

AnaMiljkovic Ana  Miljkovic

Ana Miljkovic is a project management author and researcher at Plaky who enjoys writing articles on diverse project management topics. This way, she manages to link her love of in-depth research, efficient organization, and fine writing. As a former English teacher, she strongly believes reading is one of the best ways to learn. Therefore, the aim of her articles is to simplify complex topics and make them helpful and easy to understand for everyone.