10 Warning Signs of Project Failure

Support from senior management and staff involvement are both needed to drive and keep the effort focused and moving. Ownership of the project must be shared to satisfy the demands of user management. IT executives must convey this message to senior management to retain involvement and participation.

Frequent or large changes to project scope. Scope changes can significantly impact the cost, schedule, risks and quality of the entire effort. Project managers should watch out for early and frequent changes to the project scope.

While scope is defined early in the planning and estimation phases, there are valid reasons for change. For example, a stakeholder may acquire additional insight into a problem during the course of the project or external market conditions and/or government regulations can drive requests that extend beyond the initial project scope. However, changes to project scope can also occur as a result of developing a poor initial scope document.

Project managers must ensure that adequate time is spent on defining and refining the work effort directly with key stakeholders.

Lack of change management process. Project changes will occur. However, uncontrolled changes and insufficient change management processes will increase the probability of project failure. A formal and structured change management process is necessary to ensure effects of any changed requirements are properly analyzed, prioritized, and balanced according to the project’s budget, schedule, and scope.

Project managers should consistently and publicly take a phased approach to projects, so that users understand that not all changes must be completed for the current release. This will help acceptance of trading off specific desired changes for faster availability of greater functionality. This will also help reduce the impact of change onto the project, and allow for cost and time containment.

Failure to establish appropriate client/user expectations. Disputes often occur as a result of mismatched expectations. Missed project targets will cause delays, rework, and additional project spending. Setting user expectations is necessary to establish a baseline of what and what not to expect from the final deliverable.

Project managers should work with key stakeholders in establishing and prioritizing project requirements as well as reviewing budgets and schedules. Additionally, all people involved in the project effort should have periodic joint sessions, to ensure the same communications on project expectations are received by everyone.

This process helps keep users involved and abreast of the project’s status, as well as minimizing the potential for misunderstanding of project expectations between stakeholders.

Unrealistic deadlines. Stakeholders want their projects completed now. In some harsh environments, they may question IT’s commitment and effort. IT executives and project managers must work with stakeholders to help them understand what is possible with the level of incumbent IT resources.

Project managers should collaborate with key stakeholders in defining reasonable project schedules and deadlines to ensure that business conditions and requirements are met and better manage expectation levels.

Project managers will need to ensure that project cost, scope, and time are optimally balanced to achieve the desired deliverables and the desired time. Effective planning and monitoring are necessary to help develop a strong start for the project. However, project managers must remain aware and anticipate change as re-planning is necessary throughout the project.

Insufficient resources. Required resources are often underestimated and scheduled inaccurately. Companies often encounter problems with resource allocation, as many companies to do not spend sufficient time on resource scheduling and proper management.

In fact, it is very common for companies to overestimate the on-boarding of staff to a project, which immediately causes the project to be late and in trouble, impairing IT’s image with LOB managers and executives. In addition, resources are often utilized ineffectively, especially when individuals are required to support multiple projects concurrently. Insufficient resource supply will cause delays and impact overlapping projects.

Project managers should plan according to the established project schedule estimates and work with concurrent project schedules to help ensure that resources are properly scheduled.


All companies have experienced projects that have gone over budget, schedule, and scope. However, project managers can learn from past historical data, experiences of peer companies, and project management organizations.

Taking a proactive approach to preventing project failure is a necessary first step to overcoming repeated failure. Sufficient research and planning as well as patience in establishing necessary project processes are essential to developing a solid project management foundation.

Project managers must ensure that the initial project plan is strong enough to sustain the project throughout its life cycle. A project plan should be assessed on the project’s alignment with business strategies, budget, the cost/benefit analysis, relevance, resource requirements, and scope to help determine its value contribution to the enterprise.