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Project Failures





Project Failure

by Carl Casso

What is project failure?

Do you achieve project success for at least one in every ten projects? In a
widely-read study, the Standish Group reported in 1994 that only 9 percent
of projects in large companies were successful. (The major reasons listed
for failure were restarts, cost overruns, and content deficiencies, aka
not meeting original scope.) The Standish Group reported five years later
that just over half of IT projects cost 189 percent of their original

Other analyses and observations have suggested that the varying definitions of project or component failure may affect the message. Also, what is the scope of the work result being analyzed - should we focus enterprise-wide or program-wide, versus a narrow-focus on a single project or initiative? Is failure of a pilot project that is part of a successful program a true failure?

Below are a few alternative viewpoints to causes of project failure:

Failure "reason" The bigger picture factors
Not on time, not completed by initial deadline
  • Scope creep or expansion forced slippage
  • An imposed impossible deadline vs. "organic" deadline based on project schedule
  • Organizational priorities changed, shifting resources into other areas so that the organization (or program) achieved overall success.
Over Budget
  • Scope expansion forced additional costs (and if tracked, original scope items may have been within budget)
  • Invalid budgeting process, due to insufficient time available to define requirements and prepare a detailed cost estimate
Didn't meet original customer expectations
  • Subjective validation or interpretation by the customer of their expectations, may also be political positioning
  • Expectations not communicated; the initial high-level concept requirements were later refined by staff who were unaware of the original discussions and intent.

The debate over how to define a failure - or a success - will continue, and the definition will vary by organization. Recasting the factors that contributed to the "failed" initiative may allow more positive success statistics.

  This article was preceded by July's The Manager you hate to love




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