Recently, the NBA champion Giannis Antetokounmpo was asked whether his team Bucks’ season had to be considered as a failure due to their elimination by the lowly ranked Miami Heat after a five-game series. “You work towards a goal” he responded “it’s not a failure. It’s steps to success. (…) That’s what sports is about. You don’t always win.” 

Just like in sports, project failure in the business world is an occurrence we cannot completely escape, but it is frequently avoidable.

Aiming for a 100% success rate might not be rational yet being mindful of common project pitfalls and employing appropriate management tools can substantially increase your chances of success.

So, what is a project failure? 

A project turns into a failure when it fails to meet its upon-agreed requirements within the set budget and time constraints.  

However, it´s often the stakeholders who ultimately decide whether the project was a success or a failure, based on their judgment and satisfaction with the end result. 

Even so, just like in basketball, projects that seem like failures can still score some big points. You might not meet every deadline or deliverable, but you are still making moves. Failure is never fun, but it is often the flip side of setting big, audacious goals. The key thing is making sure we are failing forward for the right reasons, rather than tripping over something we could have sidestepped.  

Preventing project failure is in fact within reach. It demands advanced planning and stopping common project pitfalls in their tracks. 

7 reasons why projects fail (and how to prevent it)

Here is a look at the 7 most common causes of the failure of projects. Let´s see together how you can avoid them and make your next project (and the ones after that) successful.

  1. Ambiguous Objectives and Goals

Imagine a basketball game where the players are unclear about which basket they should shoot at. Sounds chaotic, right?

Similarly, in the world of project management, initiating a project without well-defined objectives and goals is like setting sail in stormy seas without a compass. Without clear targets, there is no way to gauge whether you are moving closer to success or straying off course.

The best defense against this frequent misstep is to establish measurable, lucid objectives during the planning phase. From there, break down those major goals into smaller, better manageable bits. This way, there is less chance for misunderstandings or misinterpretations from your squad. To make sure the entire team is unified and shooting for the same hoop, involve them in the goal-setting process from the get-go. This helps ensure everyone steps onto the court knowing exactly what they’re playing for.

  1. Unrealistic expectations

Are your goals attainable?

Imagine trying to make every shot from the half-court line in a basketball game. Sure, it might look cool and pump up the team when you make it, but it is not a sustainable strategy for winning games. The same applies to project management.

While it is important to have measurable and ambitious goals to drive your colleagues forward, these objectives need to be within the realm of possibility. Going for nothing but half-court shots – or setting unattainable goals – can stress out your team and put your project timeline in a tailspin.

As the coach of your project, it is your job to know your players. You need to understand the strengths, skills, and capabilities of each team member. Getting a clear and realistic understanding of what your team can accomplish and when they can deliver is the equivalent of drawing up the right plays for the right players. That is how you set up your project for a winning season.

  1. Lack of visibility

How are your tasks related to your teammates´ ones?

Think about a basketball game where you are passing the ball, but your teammate doesn´t know they are supposed to receive it. In a project, just as on the court, everyone plays a part. Maybe you’re the one starting the project, much like initiating an offensive play, while someone else is responsible for overseeing certain tasks, akin to blocking shots. All the moves are interlinked, but this is not always obvious to everyone.

Even the best-planned project can quickly go off the rails if visibility is limited. If a team member can’t see the full court – or understand the broader project context, the importance of their tasks, or the implications of a delay – it might set off a domino effect that throws the entire project off balance.

That’s why it’s crucial to have a solid project management system in place. This should highlight how all the tasks fit together and maintain transparency for everyone on the working group not just the project manager. But consider moving beyond traditional, hard-to-navigate Excel lists. Look towards software that automatically generates visual aids for you, like interactive neural network diagrams that illustrate interrelations and dependencies in real-time.

When everyone understands the strategic significance of their tasks, they can pivot or assist as necessary. Just like in a well-coordinated team, better visibility leads to more proactive work and problem-solving in project management.

  1. Communication Gaps

Is everything clear?

It should go without saying, but communication in project management is the key.

The Project Management Institute (PMI) suggests that poor communication contributes to project failure about one-third of the time. This lack of effective communication can lead to unawareness among team members, a drop in productivity, unnecessary stress, and a lack of trust, among other issues.

Without a game plan for communication, companies might as well be tossing millions of dollars into the wind with every project they start.

To avoid this communication pitfall, don’t rush into the project. Instead, take a moment before the project begins to establish and circulate a robust communication strategy. This plan should clarify which communication channels to use and when. While the project is underway, prioritize honesty and clarity. Encourage your team members to ask specific, concise questions rather than posing vague queries that could lead to confusion.

Because just like in basketball, clear and consistent communication is the key to playing a great game together.

  1. Scheduling delays

Ever watched a small expense snowball into a major cost overrun in a business project?

Just like unchecked expenses, scheduling delays might seem insignificant at first. A minor delay on a task here, a late report there, and before you know it, your project is in trouble, overruns occur, and stress levels rise. As a project manager, it’s your job to swiftly steer the ship back on course.

The good news is that in 2023 technology can be your ally in avoiding this pitfall. Leveraging innovative software, you can utilize a comprehensive roadmap that clearly outlines each step that needs to be completed, who is responsible for it, and when each task or objective is due. An effective project roadmap offers your team a clear understanding of how tasks interconnect, enabling you to identify which key milestones are dependent on others. This means you can plan backward from due dates, ensuring there’s ample time to complete each step.

  1. Inadequate Risk Management

Ever seen a minor issue in a project evolve into a major problem because it wasn´t addressed early on?

Risk management is crucial for project managers. It helps identify, evaluate, and respond to potential issues that could pop up during a project’s lifecycle and disrupt its progress. If risks are not managed effectively, they may rear their heads in the later stages of the project, leading to significant delays, budget overruns, and even project failure.

A proactive approach to circumventing this issue is to prepare for the worst-case scenario. This involves focusing on ‘what if’ situations and being adequately prepared for potential developments.

As NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo stated, we must acknowledge that in any project, as in any game, there will be good days and bad ones. Things can, and will, go wrong. Thankfully, innovative technology, especially cutting-edge AI-powered platforms, combined with thoroughly planned strategies, can significantly enhance risk management effectiveness.

  1. Monitoring and controlling

Are you in tune with the real-time status of your project?

Monitoring and controlling the project is one of the most critical steps in measuring project success.

However, project managers often struggle to keep a real-time pulse on the actual situation without seeking feedback from every team member. Having a clear, instantaneous overview and understanding of the project’s status can be key to preventing delays, misunderstandings, and lost work.

As in business, time is often a critical success factor in projects. We have all experienced that “If only I knew that sooner” moment. With the right tools at your disposal, you can cut out time-consuming check-ins with teammates and have a clear overview at your fingertips, ready to catch any surprise before it has a chance to throw your project off track. The utility doesn’t end there; you can even customize notifications based on roles. You choose when and what project updates or status alerts you wish to receive. It is like having a personal smart assistant watching out for you. It’s all about staying informed, focused, and in control of your project’s progress.

How to avoid project failure with the help of ValueMiner

Even though the pitfalls of project failure have been around for a while, new solutions have emerged thanks to planning and technology. Pursuing proactive and effective project management may involve investing in software, a strategy that is common. According to KPMG, a whopping 71% of organizations leverage project management software to enhance the control and management of their projects.

Tailor-made software can be your secret card to dodge project failure. It keeps your goals under the spotlight, offers at-a-glance dashboards and report interfaces, and enables real-time monitoring.

Enter ValueMiner, the all-in-one AI-powered software platform that packs all the right tools in one place to keep your projects and team members in line. With ValueMiner, you get real-time heatmaps, easily adjustable roadmaps, and interactive neuronal network clouds that highlight the interdependencies among tasks, objectives, and roles. Our mission at ValueMiner is to help you optimize your time and resources through a personalized platform, enabling you to manage your projects effortlessly and successfully.

Remember, just as an NBA team doesn’t deem a season without a championship a failure, you should not view project setbacks as failures. With ValueMiner’s AI-powered software platform, you can seamlessly plan, collaborate, organize, and deliver projects of all sizes, right on time. Get in touch with us today!