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Why do so many companies fail at projects?
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(I first posted this on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:l...1127214084097), but I am interested in a viewpoint from professional project managers.)

Plenty of websites with titles like "Top Ten Reasons Why Projects Fail" and "101 Common Causes - Why Do Projects Fail?" give you excuses for failure, but I feel that none give you the real reason.

Why does the 2014 Standish Group Chaos Report show that 59% of companies say they have the same number, or more, project failures compared with 5 years previously?

The simple answer, is that all of these excuse lists focus on "Why Do Projects Fail?" However, if we change the questions to "Why Do Companies Fail at Projects?" we see that there is one glaring omission from all the lists - a failure to learn from experience.


All good project managers know that they should carry out project reviews and lessons learned exercises but too few actually do this. There are many excuses why not (not enough time, don't want to rock the boat, it wasn't our fault, etc.) but few good reasons why not. If we want to improve our project success rate, we need to take project reviews and lessons learned seriously.

That is my viewpoint, but am I right? Is my experience untypical and do most companies carry out reviews and record and act on lessons learned?

All questions, comments and challenges welcomed.

As an addendum. It is interesting that below the topic entry box there is an option to pick up to three subject areas from a list. The list covers many aspects of project management, but there is no mention of lessons learned or project reviews. Does this indicate the level of importance?
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I have discussed this from years with the PMI. Thanks my debates and all other people that think in the same way project success factors have been included and reviewed into the new version of PMBOK. The problem is not that project fails. The problem, generally speaking, is that project success factors are defined in the incorrect way. For example, a clasic: people assign product success factors as project success factors then this is the first step to consider a project as failure because the success factors are out of scope of the project.
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Yes, measuring success, or even defining it is a whole other question. I've seen a lot of projects run into trouble because the success factors were things out of control of the project manager. For example, in new product development projects it is not unusual to have a success criterion as a certain level of sales 5 years after launch. Usually the project manager and team have no influence over how the sales team handle the new product so it is no surprise that they become less committed to projects.
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Reviewing and incorporating lessons learned is often challenging. Many times at the end of a project, people write down all their lessons learned which get filed somewhere on a server never to be seen again. An organization may instead have a database of lessons learned, but organization of the data is critical. Depending on search capabilities, either so many might be returned that they are overwhelming, or nothing may be returned in the search results for specific terms. There are many case studies out there in literature which are informative as to the way projects succeed or fail in the general case, but when recording discrete lessons within an organization, how they are written/formatted and how they are accessed can be a big impediment to those lessons every being found.
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'Lessons Learned Sessions' are invaluable input for success of future endeavors. I found 'right format of questionnaires' make it more effective to capture information.
Also, having sessions conducted at the end of 'specific type of activities' or 'phases' collect more useful information ...compared to sessions held at the project-end.
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That number would probably come from the fact that project failure rates have slightly increased over recent years, and this may be due to their level of complexity. The other issue is what does "failure mean"? Projects that are on time, on budget, and have a great balance between constraints can still fail at the customer ballot box.
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I have seen than many companies and project managers still focus their lessons learned sessions to assess time and cost performance, but most project failures were because the project wasn't a good idea from the beginning. I mean (from my experience) that still we are managing projects that are not the right projects, then, most of this projects will be assessed as failed by the end users.
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1 reply by Billy Grierson
Nov 07, 2018 4:34 AM
Billy Grierson
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Thanks Pablo. I had a similar comment on the LinkedIn post and I totally agree. I work mainly with innovation projects so it is not surprising that many start and then get killed quickly. What is more worrying is that projects continue long past the point where it was obvious that they were not going to deliver.
Network:19



Companies fail at projects for two main reasons , Company culture(maturity) and Leadership support . Companies need time to change the company culture and get the buy in from the various stakeholders , Also Leadership must trust and empower project managers by delegating more authority to them in decision making , at least i am speaking from my experience with Leadership.
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With my experience companies fail Projects mostly due to their Internal weaknesses. It surely relates to their competency, culture , welfare and coherence. In my opinion major companies Project failures occurs due to below reasons:

1. Failure of company to fully identify & set clear, unambiguous, non-conflicting ,SMART objectives for a project and commit adequate resources to achieve these Objectives.
2. Failure to form a really competent project team, accordingly to project requirements.
3. The aggregation of Project objectives, as most of team failed to align their individual aspirations and efforts towards common goal of Project Objectives.
4. Failure to established robust inter-organisation communication,knowledge sharing and lesson learned procedures.
5.Unable to form a clear day to day issues resolution and conflict resolution procedures.
6. Failure to establish clear, unambiguous financial, accounting and procurement related procedures.
7. Failure to De-centralize Power & decision making in organisation.
8. Failure to link Incentives to Performance
9. Failure to develop culture of Integrity, Accountability, Fairness, positive criticism and Ethics
10. Failure to create a sense of Ownership towards the Organisation.
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1 reply by Billy Grierson
Nov 07, 2018 4:38 AM
Billy Grierson
...
Asif, I agree with you, but I would argue that these are symptoms. The real problem is that companies have failed to review projects, identify these as learning points and then act on them. There are many excuses given for not doing this, but I suspect that the real reason is that the companies know they have these weaknesses but don't know how to deal with them and so think it is easier to ignore the problem.
Network:41



Nov 06, 2018 5:20 PM
Replying to Pablo Cesar Garcia Bonilla
...
I have seen than many companies and project managers still focus their lessons learned sessions to assess time and cost performance, but most project failures were because the project wasn't a good idea from the beginning. I mean (from my experience) that still we are managing projects that are not the right projects, then, most of this projects will be assessed as failed by the end users.
Thanks Pablo. I had a similar comment on the LinkedIn post and I totally agree. I work mainly with innovation projects so it is not surprising that many start and then get killed quickly. What is more worrying is that projects continue long past the point where it was obvious that they were not going to deliver.
...
1 reply by Pablo Cesar Garcia Bonilla
Nov 07, 2018 8:37 AM
Pablo Cesar Garcia Bonilla
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Yes Billy, is kind of frustrating that I'm seeing still many projects that started when they sould not, and later aren't killed at the time it becomes evident the projects will not deliver any value. This is not always the case, but still happens, and until they are closed, projects are seen as failed.
Network:41



Nov 07, 2018 1:54 AM
Replying to Asif Gul
...
With my experience companies fail Projects mostly due to their Internal weaknesses. It surely relates to their competency, culture , welfare and coherence. In my opinion major companies Project failures occurs due to below reasons:

1. Failure of company to fully identify & set clear, unambiguous, non-conflicting ,SMART objectives for a project and commit adequate resources to achieve these Objectives.
2. Failure to form a really competent project team, accordingly to project requirements.
3. The aggregation of Project objectives, as most of team failed to align their individual aspirations and efforts towards common goal of Project Objectives.
4. Failure to established robust inter-organisation communication,knowledge sharing and lesson learned procedures.
5.Unable to form a clear day to day issues resolution and conflict resolution procedures.
6. Failure to establish clear, unambiguous financial, accounting and procurement related procedures.
7. Failure to De-centralize Power & decision making in organisation.
8. Failure to link Incentives to Performance
9. Failure to develop culture of Integrity, Accountability, Fairness, positive criticism and Ethics
10. Failure to create a sense of Ownership towards the Organisation.
Asif, I agree with you, but I would argue that these are symptoms. The real problem is that companies have failed to review projects, identify these as learning points and then act on them. There are many excuses given for not doing this, but I suspect that the real reason is that the companies know they have these weaknesses but don't know how to deal with them and so think it is easier to ignore the problem.
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