Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail

There is a myriad of reasons why projects fail but they often come down to certain repeatable issues which, left unsolved, will make it next-to-impossible to ever fully succeed. The most common reason why projects fail is because they are not properly managed. There’s a lot of moving parts and essential tasks to be done in order for the final product or service to work out, so it’s important to take everything into consideration beforehand. Here is a list of ten reasons we’ve found to recur in poorly run or failing projects. 

Reason #1 – Scope Creep 

Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Seventh Edition defines project scope as “the work performed to deliver a product, service or result with the specified features or functions.”1 It further defines scope creep as “the uncontrolled expansion to … scope without adjustments to time, cost, and resources.”2 In other words, determining what your product or service will do while continually changing it due to stakeholder requests but never accounting for it in the schedule. And so, everybody continues working toward the same, now impossible-to-meet, schedule. And then the project fails, blame is ascribed, and everybody scrambles for cover.

Reason # 2 – Insufficient Planning 

PMI devotes a staggering twenty-four processes in the PMBOK® Guide- Sixth Edition to the planning. The point, of course, is acknowledging planning on a project is extremely important. It seems like an obvious statement, but often team members are either not given enough or very little time to plan. This leads to errors and waste. And to the ultimate discovery that planning cannot be overlooked, so the team must go back and plan while they execute.

Reason # 3 – Insufficient or Inappropriate Resources 

Often there are too few resources working on too many projects at the same time, which causes a project to fail. In conjunction, managers are not always aware of what their resources are doing at any point in time, whether it be project work or their “real” job. Add to this the fact organization-wide, projects often go unprioritized, so resources are left to figure out for themselves what they should be working on and when.

Reason #4 – Lack of Understanding of Requirements 

Requirements are simply what your product or service is required to do. If you are creating laptops requirements might include the weight, how many ports it might have, what level of security it requires, the operating system, etc. Too often requirements are vague and/or incomplete, leaving frustration when it comes time for the customer to sign off.

Reason # 5 – Poor Communication

Communications is the oil of your project. Per the PMBOK® Guide, “research shows that top project managers spend about 90% of their time communicating.”3 Many people on a project will know the project manager only through his or her communications. So, the Project Manager is often working in a virtual environment and some of their team members are in another part of the country or even the world. And they will know them by how their voice comes across over the phone or especially by how well-written they are in emails. Projects can either succeed or fail based on how well you and your team are communicating.

Reason # 6 – Stakeholder Management 

In real estate, they say there are three important things: location, location, location. In project management, we might say it’s: stakeholder, stakeholder, stakeholder. These are the people for whom you are doing the project. Yes, you must communicate with them. But as the title says you must also manage them. So, identify your stakeholders, know when and how to reach out to them, communicate bad news early, and always, always manage their expectations.

Reason #7 – Risk Management 

In going from fifth to the sixth edition of the PMBOK® Guide,  PMI increased its risk section by some 40%. Why? Because if you are not managing risk you are not effectively managing the project. No project goes perfectly and in fact, many things can likely go wrong. Projects have uncertainty and by predicting risk, you can lower the uncertainty and increase the likelihood of completing your project on time.

Reason #8 – Unsupported Project Culture 

It might surprise you to realize organizational cultures often don’t fully embrace project management. They ask themselves why exactly is the project manager I’ve just hired with the fancy certifications spending so much time planning? Why can’t they just start executing? If you’re a project manager, you know exactly why you plan.

Reason #9 – The Accidental Project Manager

This is somewhat of a corollary of the previous reason. Organizations who don’t take project management as seriously as they might, often feel “anyone can manage a project.” And so very often assistants or coordinators without a lot of experience in anything outside their realm, much less project management, are tasked with major projects. No matter how good they are in their main discipline, minus training and aptitude, in this scenario, projects are at high risk.

Reason #10 – Monitoring and Controlling 

Perhaps one of the less understood facts about projects is they need to be monitored and controlled. Essentially what this means is in a project you must “track, review, and regulate the progress and performance of the project; identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required; and initiate the corresponding changes.”4 So, you must endeavor to stay on track and when falling behind on budget or schedule – or anticipating falling behind – must modify the plan to get back on track. 

Why do some projects fail in project management? In summary, failing to understand and deal with any one of these reasons may cause your project to go awry. Inattention to all of them is nothing more than a catastrophe waiting to happen.


  1. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2017, page 131
  2. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2017, page 168
  3. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2017, page 61
  4. Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute Inc., 2017, page 23

Studying for the PMP Exam?

Upcoming PMP Certification Training – Live & Online Classes

PMP Certification TrainingAug 1,2,3,4
Birmingham, ALView Details
PMP Certification TrainingNov 14,15,16,17
Birmingham, ALView Details
PMP Certification TrainingJun 6-9 & 13-16
Online - Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)View Details

PMA Logo
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at | + posts
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO