The bottom line is this…more projects fail than succeed. And by failure that can be lots of things. A project can end with a good, working, implemented solution and still be considered somewhat of a failure because it came in four months late and $250,000 over budget.

In the project world and business world, we are so quick to try to pass blame that it’s become easier to just try and fail and then point fingers and try to get sympathy or empathy. No one wins. What is really lacking is boldness and leadership.

So why do projects fail? What are some major, general reasons for overall project failure? From my experiences, it really comes down to three high causes (in most cases, not all cases). Remember, these are OUR projects. We should be invested in them to the fullest. So keep that in mind as you read through these…

Lack of leadership. Strong, dependable leadership is required. The PM can’t go around whining about the team being out of control. Well, they can, but they would be in denial that the real problem is their own ability to earn and retain project team member respect and following. The onus for that is on the project manager. And if he does everything he can to make that happen and it just isn’t working, then it is still his responsibility to raise the flag that he needs to replace the rogue resource and the push to make that happen. He can sit and wait if it is slow in happening, but he will still be blamed for the project failure, so in reality he better be pretty proactive in making that switch happen.

Lack of ownership. Likewise, we must “own” our projects. We can’t control everything, but we can certainly own what we can control. And that is always the expectation of the project managers who are managing the company’s projects. They “own it.” Success or failure – they are at the helm. If something is needed for the project then it is the PM’s responsibility to go out and get it or at least ask for it or demand it. No one else is to blame here – it’s the PM’s job.

Those “other” things we usually can’t control. And now for everything else. Yes, some things can come up that are completely outside of the PM’s control. If you are running projects from Las Vegas it isn’t likely that a flood will occur so if one does its easy to see why the PM maybe didn’t plan for that. But even then, it’s still their project, and blame will fall to the project manager. Things outside of the PM’s control can be frustrating, but it doesn’t override their need and responsibility to own the success and failure for the entire project.

Summary / call for input

People often jump quickly to blame project failure on unrealistic expectations on timeframe and budget. If it’s my project, I own it. And if I was handed a project that I felt couldn’t meet the timeline and budget that was bestowed upon me and I don’t say anything or do anything about it and then it fails…the problem wasn’t the unrealistic expectations of timeline and budget. The problem was me – I didn’t speak up and say, “This won’t work! We need more time and/or more money to do this project the right way.” If I don’t raise the flag at the beginning when I see the problem, the onus is on me…not some concept that I was given a project with unrealistic expectations.