Why Projects Fail

business goals project success Apr 05, 2023
Why projects fail

The simple truth is that most projects fail because they succumb to death by a thousand cuts.

It's not just an ancient Chinese torture... it's an effect felt everyday by by project managers across the globe because of all the little things that seem to make project execution just that little bit harder.

And, these seemingly small things have a big cumulative impact, ultimately undermining project success.

But, there are important steps you can take now to avoid project failure.

Be proactive, not reactive

For a moment... cast yourself into the post project reviews you have previously "enjoyed". 

Ah, the cliche questions of "What can we do better?" and "What did we learn?" 

For the most part, when projects underperform, management look for the root causes and defining moments that have driven their projects to the brink.  The big ticket items!

What they don't talk about is the war of attrition that rages most days within a project or the role they, and other organisational influences, have played in affecting project performance.

Looking at why projects fail is reactive.  Avoiding failure is proactive.

And being proactive means actively managing project risks and performance from the start through to the end.

Let's explore three key areas to keep in focus.


Keep in mind that projects are an investment and we measure the performance of any investment against the capital we put in.

So when we are initially selecting and planning projects it's important to get this process right.

The business case, initial planning, project set up and kick-off are all critical elements.

We already know that we are dealing with a degree of uncertainty in any project.  But, starting off with shaky foundations is a sure fire way to set the project up for future failure.


How projects run day to day is often where trouble hides.

Having the most comprehensive processes and sophisticated tools does not guarantee success.

There are lots of specific considerations here (too many for this post), but all projects must effectively manage the "who does what and when" proposition overlaid by effective and consistent risk management.

The big mistake is a focus on compliance.  Yes, compliance is important, but it's often treated as a tick the box exercise.

Project operations have a mechanical dimension and a quality dimension, underpinned by project success principles and proactive periodic assessment.

Finding the pragmatic and effective balance point is key.


Where there is smoke there is fire!

Projects rarely tune in to the mood and energy within the ranks.

Sure, people gripe, complain and provide feedback, but these are typically reactive processes and rarely represent the broader views of the team and stakeholders.

It's important to periodically lift the hood (bonnet) of the project and get a sense of how the engine is performing... the engine being the people all projects rely on to deliver the outcomes.

This process often yields insights that otherwise may not come to the surface, insights that can be considered and acted upon proactively.

And use an external provider who has no active management involvement.  This ensures objectivity and provides a confidential and safe channel for the expression of honest responses.


Driving project success requires a consistent and proactive approach.  Ensure periodic reviews occur throughout the project and that insights are treated as an opportunity to create a high performing project environment.

These areas are embodied in our 3 Bars of Project Success - A unique set of Project Services built within our Project Success Framework and designed to de-risk your project and keep it on track.

Like to know more?  Start with our Projects page.
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