Why Projects Really Fail and Why We Struggle Changing It

Despite the continuous effort to improve project management processes, mainly driven by project management associations such as the International Project Management Association (IPMA) and the Project Management Institute (PMI), as well as the introduction of new and modern methodologies (e.g. Scrum, Kanban), project success rates did not significantly improve over the years. The amount of effort that has been put into advancing project management practices is in no relation with seen changes in project success rates — in some industries we actually see no improvement at all (e.g. Olympic Games are consistently overrunning their project budgets).

The resulting question is why and what are we doing wrong in project management that project success rates remain low?

What is Project Success?

There is a general inconsistency within the project management domain regarding the definition of project success, especially because delivering a project within the constraints of scope, time, and budget (generally referred to as the Triple Constraint) does not automatically guarantee project success. At the same time, a failed project management effort does not necessarily result in project failure, as a project still can be deemed successful based on delivered business value, even if project management efforts failed (e.g. cost overrun).

However, project failures are usually tightly linked to poor project management practices, such as poor project planning, inadequate risk management, incorrect estimations, etc. Accordingly, project management performance is a key factor towards the overall project success and is therefore a constant focus for improvement measures. Lots of efforts have been put in place, targeting the improvement of project processes, incl. better project management training and education, in order to reduce project management failures. Such measures however are dealing primarily with the symptoms while the actual root causes usually are acknowledged but otherwise are not receiving a lot of attention.

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Marcus Glowasz
Marcus Glowasz
Marcus Glowasz is a project management specialist, coach, and advisor. He works with leaders and organizations to build data-literate and evidence-driven project teams and pave the way for data-informed and AI-supported project work. He is the author of the book "Leading Projects with Data", which provides invaluable insights on overcoming cultural and behavioral barriers to achieving success in data-driven and evidence-based project delivery.