There are many reasons why projects fail. They run over time and over budget and often don't deliver the business benefits promised.
Good project management techniques build in regular assessments of strategic viability as part of the project plan. Halting a project that is no longer strategically viable due to changing external factors is not a project failure. Allowing the project to run in these circumstances is a failure.
Project failures are almost entirely due to internal factors that can be controlled by the business.
Failing to plan properly
Projects are often started to solve a problem. Someone has a great idea and rather than analyzing the problem and finding the appropriate solution they jump straight into implementing the first solution that comes to mind. There is always more than one solution to a problem and the first is not necessarily the right solution for the business.
Lots of activity in and of itself will not necessarily mean that the problem will be solved. Up to eighty percent of the effort in successful projects is in the planning. If a project is that urgent it demands that high energy and enthusiasm is invested in the planning.
Failing to do anything
This is the opposite of failing to plan. Analysis can create a momentum all its own. Investigation needs to be done but only enough to have confidence in the next step. This hesitation can appear not only at the project kick off but also as each gate is approached.
Stakeholders who are not fully committed to the project can cause delays by insisting on more analysis before decisions are made. To overcome this specific deliverables for each gate should be established and agreed during the planning stage.
Ignoring the risks
In projects that fail risks are often identified but not monitored or managed. Risks do not disappear by themselves. All assumptions that are made when setting the project plan are risks and they should be tested and mitigation plans put in place to minimise the impact if the assumption turns out to be incorrect.
When projects cross functional lines cooperation is required to keep the project on track. Individual and team rewards and bonuses are often based on functional objectives being met and project involvement can be seen as inhibiting action on these base objectives. As a result cooperation with the project team takes a low priority in functional activities.
The solution to this problem is to directly link performance objectives, rewards and bonuses to project outcomes.
The sponsor is the power behind the project. If sponsors keep changing there must be some doubt whether the project is really required. Different sponsors will have their own personal focus. Even minor differences can cause the project to waiver on its course. Without a sponsor willing to take accountability for the strategic benefits to be delivered there should be no project.
When the project manager spends as much time bringing new sponsors up to date and adjusting the plan for new direction as they do running the project it is time to propose killing the project. If the project is considered to be important enough someone at the executive level will step forward and take responsibility.
Many common reasons for project failure can be prevented by careful planning and clear approval processes. If however the project does run over time, over budget or does not deliver the promised benefits a post implementation review can provide information that can be used to improve project performance in the future.