Project Management

Win or Lose? What will you Choose?

From the PK to PS (Practical Keys to Project Success) Blog
Are you under pressure to deliver? Is your life made tough by shortened schedules, tight budgets, fuzzy/incomplete scope, demotivated teams and demanding stakeholders with unrealistic expectations. Projects Fail. Frequently. Across industries. Across the World. My recent global book, “Say YES to Project Success,” was a compilation of success tips/techniques from 108 experts with rich experience in 2,000+ projects in 119 countries and 54 industry segments. This blog, based on key material from the book, provides practical, proven techniques to significantly improve project success.

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Win or Lose? What will you Choose?

“Win?” Or “Lose?”

Which would you rather choose?

WinOrLoseIn a recent webinar on this site, I asked participants whether any had a 100% record of project success.

“LOL!” “Are you kidding?” “Yeah, right!” These were some of the responses, with many others on similar lines.

Projects fail. Frequently. Across industries. All over the world. Project failure rates can be as high as 70%.

Early Failures

As developers, designers, and team leads who showed the most initiative and dynamism, my spouse and I were pitchforked into project management with no training. It was like being blindfolded and left alone in a dangerous jungle.

We started with mistakes and failures.

Around 2002, we had our first formal training and in 2005, achieved the prestigious Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. We then started applying best practices  to our projects.

At first, it wasn’t easy. We continued to fail. We learned from those failures.

Baby Steps

Sustained effort and continual learning brought small successes first. We learned much from amazing mentors. Our project success rates grew.

Soon, we were training professionals through PM best practice workshops and certification prep courses.

Theory or Practice?

Theory or PracticeAttendees would often ask us for resources to learn more best practices.

We knew of many great resources on the theory of project management. However, there were not too many that dealt with practical project success tools and techniques.

“Don’t cook eggplant dishes with printed pictures of the vegetable.” That’s a famous adage in my mother tongue, the ancient language Tamil.

Theory is indeed important. However, practice is critical.

Secret Sauce of Success

Secret SauceAmidst so much failure, delivering results can accelerate career progress. A shining example is Padma Vibhushan Dr. E Sreedharan. Starting as a student in a small village school, he studied to be an engineer. Over time, he grew to become one of the most accomplished project managers in the world. A M Naik who retired as Chairman of Larsen & Toubro (L&T), one of India’s most respected conglomerates, is another great example.

What were the key ingredients in their success?

Determination. Hard work. Continuous learning. A fourth recurring theme was a consistent track record of delivering project success.

The Genesis

Over the past decade, we put together a set of tips and techniques that helped us to deliver many successful projects across four continents. Clients we helped suggested their tweaks to our approach. Later, they shared personal success stories in implementing the techniques.

Thus the idea of this blog and our book, “Say YES to Project Success,” with a laser focus on proven, practical success techniques.

Why do Projects Fail?

Project FailureTo target success, we first focused on top project failure factors.

We carried out an in-depth analysis of project failure across several published global studies.

Using a “poll of polls” approach, we took each failure factor in each study, assigning weights based on where each factor ranked.

For example, if a study listed 10 reasons for project failure, the top factor would be assigned a “1.0” weight, with the last one assigned a “0.1” weight. Similarly, the top factor in a study of 20 failure factors would be assigned a “1.0” weight, with the last factor getting a “0.05” weight.

We then consolidated factors and weights across all the surveys.

Sorting in descending order of weights gave us a “Top 20” list of Global Project Failure Factors.

What do you think the Top factors would be?
Please provide feedback in the comments section.

See you soon!

Next up

Top 20 Project Failure Factors.

Posted on: February 02, 2019 10:37 AM | Permalink

Comments (35)

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Great start Karthik. Eagerly expecting the next

Wonderful article mentioning two of great personality.
Thanks for sharing!!

@Alok Priyadarshi & @Priya Narayanasamy: Thanks a million for the kind words!
I really look forward to your continued support and feedback which will motivate me to keep contributing for the benefit of our vibrant PM community here!

Thanks for sharing Karthik. I personally havent had any projects that failed in Construction but some ended up behind schedule or a bit over budget which is expected in the construction industry in some cases and the percentage of those I would say was 15%.

Wow, Rami! That's indeed an excellent record, something most PMs would really envy!
Keep smiling, keep shining, and keep leading!

Thank you dear Karthik, likewise. We have to collaborate soon maybe on a shared article or webinar or even a blog post.

Great write-up Karthik. Thank you.

@Rami Kaibni: That's a great idea to work on a shared piece!
I'm presenting at the PMI APAC LIM at Penang and at the PMI EMEA Conference at Dublin.
Can we look at something in June?

@Andrew Craig: Thanks a million for the kind words! It is encouragement like this that motivates all of us to continue contributing for the benefit of our vibrant community here!

Karthik, I just want to highlight one aspect that someone consider a losses might be considered a winning for someone else. we need to pre-set the definition of losses and winnings.

@Riyadh Salih: Great point! I completely agree.
At times, we may do a project for purely strategic reasons such as winning a new customer, retaining a long-time customer, or even to enter a new geography.
In these situations, we may completely ignore project profitability.
The point I was trying to make was that, whatever the situation, project managers are eager to deliver successful projects, as defined in their charters.

I never came across any failed projects, but few overrun due to change of scope. Couple of points for the failures i can think of: setting up wrong or impractical expectations. Starting the project with some assumptions, which might create issues later once project started. lack of proper coordination within cross functional teams leads to delays. Improper estimation of tasks and unidentified risks/issues that delays the tasks completion. Particularly in eCommerce, the main reason is time to market is very short and selecting a wrong technology will have a major impact on the delivery of the project.

Loss and win is part of life. Leasson learned after each projects play vital role. Lesson learned from failed projects is baby step to avoid similar failure.

@Krishna Murthy Sampathy: That's a great record, indeed, something many Project Managers would be very proud to about!
Thanks a million for giving what, in your opinion, are major project failure factors:
1. Unrealistic Expectations
2. Lack of Coordination between Teams
3. Inaccurate Estimation
4. Poor Risk Identification
5. Incorrect Technology Selection
I hope you will continue sharing your knowledge for the benefit of our vibrant community on

@Ravi Kishan: I agree with your point of view that wins and losses are parts of life.
However, to progress in their careers, it is imperative for PMs to be proactive in working smart and hard to deliver project success. When a project fails, we can't just tell stakeholders that "Wins and losses are a part of life!"
I also agree with you that every project can result in Lessons Learned which can improve chances of success in subsequent phases or projects.
One of the 52 chapters in our book is focused on practical steps to take to conduct effective Lessons Learned sessions, documenting them, and leveraging them for the future.

Sure, let's touch base in June please

Interesting article. Thanks for the post

Awesome post Karthik! Waiting for the next one..

@KL Rajesh: I really appreciate your kind words. In future posts, we will cover very specific, practical, and proven tips to the top 20 global project failure factors.
I look forward to your continued reading, support, and constructive feedback!

@Alankar Karpe: Thanks a million for your kind words of encouragement.
In subsequent posts on this blog, I will be covering very specific, practical, and proven tips to the top 20 global project failure factors.
Please continue to read, rate, and comment with feedback.

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