Why do projects fail

Why do projects fail

There is one important question asked in today's world regardless of the sector in which the organizations are present in. Why do projects fail and how do we prevent these failures from happening. It is important to understand and analyze these questions as it will help organizations improve their reputation which will in turn attract more jobs from customers. There are some periods of time where it is sometimes critical for an organization to produce a 100% functional project. An example of this is during the period of Recession where organizations have to develop working projects. If they fail to do so the organization risks closure. Hence it is important for organizations to construct their project portfolios in such a way that they have a strategic fit with their organizational goals and structure. Hence investments on unnecessary projects are reduced. During the last few years there was a big Boom in the IT sector where by people and organizations had all started converting to the digital age. An example of this is the introduction of databases where people could now store massive amounts of data in computers instead of using files and folders. However even with the enhancements in technology projects still tend to fail. So let us look at some of the reasons why IT projects fail. Some major factors for project failure are:

Not meeting the deadlines:

Deadlines are set at the start of these projects which are non-negotiable once the project has commenced. Sometimes these deadlines have to be achieved within a short amount of time. Hence the project is rushed without proper planning and many stages of the project are skipped in order to meet the deadlines. In the end the organization manages to deliver the project on time however the project is full of bugs and has to be maintained over a long period of time which will cost a lot than the cost of the actual project. There are some cases where Organizations fail to meet the deadlines of the project. In these cases the client sometimes gives an extension of the project deadline. However all the recurring costs have to be met by the project developer. In some extreme cases where the project cannot be completed, the developers have to refund part or sometimes the entire cost of the project paid by the client.

Unclear Goals and Objectives:

Every Project has certain goals that need to be achieved. These goals can be ascertained during the requirements gathering stage. Most of the IT projects fail because organizations fail to collect the necessary requirements in order to achieve the goal or objective of the project. According to Taimour (2005) 'Defining clear requirements for a project can take time and lots of communication, but sometimes goals and objectives might be unclear because project sponsors lack the experience to describe what they really require'.

Sometimes during the project people deviate from the original set objectives by adding new objectives which are sometimes not necessary. This is called Scoop Creep.

An Example is when the scope increase of the project consists of new products or new features of accepted product designs, with no corresponding increases in resources, schedule, or budget. As the scope of a project grows, more tasks must be accomplished within the budget and schedule originally intended for a smaller set of tasks. Hence, scope creep can result in a project team overrunning its original budget and schedule. This can eventually led to project failure.

Lack of user involvement:

One of the most important reasons for IT Project failures is that organizations tend to leave out the importance of user involvement in their project planning and executions. During each stage of project development, it is very important for the company to involve or at least keep the user or customer informed about the progress of the project. However, most organizations involve the users only at the start and end of the project. Hence in the end when the project is handed over, the customer receives a completely different product. Therefore the project had to be done all over again which as a result leads to increase in cost and time of executing the project. Hence in order to avoid this costly mistake in projects, companies should involve the customers so that they can provide their inputs at every stage thereby leaving the customer satisfied with the overall project. This can help build customer loyalty to the organization. There is a successful methodology that is being used to rectify this problem. This methodology is called Extreme Programming.

According to Mohrin, Torsten (2008) 'Extreme Programming (XP) is a pragmatic approach to program development that emphasizes business results first and takes an incremental, get-something-started approach to building the product, using continual testing and revision.'. But most importantly this process of software development always involves the user at every stage because the foundation of this process is to make a team that forms around a representative called the customer or user. In extreme programming there are two planning stages that are used during the project they are:

  • Release Planning
  • Iteration Planning
'These planning steps are very simple, yet they provide very good information and excellent steering control in the hands of the Customer' (Jeffries 2001).

Lack of Necessary skills:

Most of the projects in today's world are done in team or groups. This helps the organization juggle many projects at once. However, there is always a chance that a team working on a project may not always have the necessary skills that may be required in order to create a fully functional system. For example there can be a situation where the company has to make a website and link it to a database using ASP.net. The team working on the project has good web design skills however lack the experience in ASP.net. The end result will be a fully functional website with a faulty database. Hence it is very important to analyze the requirements very carefully in order to obtain the information about the skills that are required to complete the project.

The main question however is, Why is there such a shortage of IT skills? One of the major trends that organizations today are following is outsourcing. An example is where many major IT companies such as Microsoft, IBM, and INFOSYS etc have all open up branches and are outsourcing many of their projects to India. Companies today outsource some of their projects abroad so that they can save money and make a profit. Some times in order to this companies have to lay off people in their own countries in order to save money and pay less to the companies abroad. What organizations fail to realize that sometimes the organizations abroad might not have the necessary skills to complete a high quality project even though they charge less or that they may have people with all the necessary skills in their own company and country.

Another reason why companies turn to outsourcing is the lack of willingness to train people with the necessary skills. Businesses believe that they save time and money by not training people. This is a very big mistake as the companies then don't even bother to assess whether they have all the skills required for the project which will eventually have a high impact on both the current and future projects of the organization.

Inadequate Testing:

This is another factor as to why IT projects fail. At each stage of project development it is important to make sure to test the system in order to check for bugs or for problems present in both as a unit and as a whole system. However in order to save time and money, many companies avoid this phase of the project which eventually leads to technical problems. Also, Companies fail to realize that by investing time and money in the both initial stages (planning phase) and testing phase of the project, it saves them a lot of time and money which could otherwise be invested into producing an even better result. However, in most projects, this factor is easily ignored. For example it is important to make prototypes (computer aided design (CAD) or computer aided manufacturing (CAM)) during the necessary phases of the project in order to check the feasibility and technical performance of the system. An advantage of using this prototype methodology is a reduction in cost and time. It can also help check if the system requirements is being met.

Lack of Quality Assurance:

Another reason why IT projects fail is the development of projects which are of low quality. As stated before, sometimes companies have very little time or small deadlines to finish their projects as the deadlines are not negotiable. Hence companies rush the development of the project and the end product turns out be either incomplete or with problems. Sometimes organizations take the easy way out by using external resources that are of low quality which are cheaper to use and build without worrying about the future consequences. An example is when companies use cheap wiring when installing their systems in order to cut down on the cost of using good quality wiring which is reliable and safe. What they fail to realize that by doing so they bring down the quality of not only their system but also their reputation as well. As seen above there are many reasons as to why IT projects fails. The next section of this essay would be looking into ways that can help prevent these failures in project.

Plan before starting the development or implementation:

It is very important to plan at every stage of the project. The most important phase before starting the project is the planning of how to collect the requirements for the system or project. This is an important stage for a project as it includes the scope, goals and user requirements of the system. By getting the requirements stage done well, the organization can create a system that meets all of the customer's needs without any problems. In other words, the planning phase of the project can justify if the project is to be successful or not, therefore a lot of effort must be put into it to increase its chances of being successful. This planning process can not only help companies create fully functional projects but it can also help in meeting deadlines. There are also other areas where planning is required and they include budget, resources and time etc. However in order to successfully plan these, it is important to have a clear goal and scope for the project in order to prevent scope creep.

Create a core project team:

This is usually necessary for breakthrough and radical projects. It is also important to establish a team for a project that makes most of the decisions. This team should consist of no more than 4 to 6 individuals that make all or most of the decisions related to the project. This is the team of people who will be solely responsible for the project they are entrusted with. It is very important to create a core team because it is very crucial that the people working under the core team have a clear idea as to who is in charge of which aspects of the project so that if there are any problems in the future the staff knows who to approach in order to get a solution.

Define Roles and Responsibilities:

It is very important to clearly define roles and responsibilities at the start of the project. In order to do this, a document clearly stating the goals and objectives to be accomplished should be written at the start of every project. This document is written by the Core team working on the project which is then reviewed by the customer. After the customers approval the document is then handed down to people under the core team who will be working on the project to give them an idea as to the goals and objectives of the project. Many large projects follow this approach as this helps the people working on the project stay focused on the scope of the project.

In conclusion there many factors involved when we ask the question why Projects fail. However there are also ways to prevent these factors for occurring after all 'Prevention is better than cure'. It is important to plan for these factors and always be prepared. There is always a probability that these factors can start off as risks and if kept in check could eventually escalate into a crisis. Hence it is always important to take into consideration all of the major factors that could lead to project failure in the long run and plan well in advance to avert project failure. Most importantly it is essential to always keep the user in the loop because at the end of the day whether a project fails or is a success depends on the satisfaction of the customer.


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Haughey, Duncan. Why Software Projects Fail and How to Make Them Succeed. Available: http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/why-software-projects-fail.html. Last accessed 16 March 2010.

Jeffries, Ron. (November 8, 2001). What is Extreme Programming?. Available: http://xprogramming.com/book/whatisxp/. Last accessed 16 March 2010.

Mohrin, Torsten . (14 Aug 2008). Extreme Programming. Available: http://searchsoftwarequality.techtarget.com/sDefinition/0,,sid92_gci214366,00.html. Last accessed 22 March 2010.

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