Examining The Factors Of Project Failure Information Technology Essay

Prior to determining the factors that causes a project to fail; one must have a clear understanding of what a project is. So ‘What is a Project?’ According to the Project Management Institute ‘a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product service or result’. In this context, the term temporary means that every project has a definite starting point and a definite end. The end of a project is when all objectives have been met, or it has became certain that the objective can or cannot be achieved, or when there is no further necessity for the project to be continued. A project is also unique in which the end results or product is different to others being developed such as different designs, different locations, different contractors and etc. Another characteristic which sums up to what a project is it being progressive. Progressive is a characteristic that displays every project is developed on a step by step or by an increment basis.

1.1 What is Project Management?

In order to ensure that all three criteria of a project is met, a method of managing the project must be set in place. This is where project management comes in. According to the Project Management Institute ‘project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements’. The purpose of project management is to set in place an organized method of controlling, planning, organizing and measuring resources in a project to meet the objectives set. The resources involved would include manpower, raw materials, machinery, time, money and so on. Due to the lack of application of project management, factors that contribute to the failures of a project are bound to arise. These failure factors will be further explained below.

2.0 Why Do Projects Fail?

It is true that every project is unique; however the underlying causes of project failure are usually restricted to a few specific areas. Once we know what these are we can take steps to minimize the chance of problems in these areas and increase the likelihood of success. Common factors for project failures are explained below.

2.1 Inappropriate Communication Management

In today’s world, it is a requirement that projects are undertaken in partnership with the business, and this partnership absolutely requires solid communication. According to Turner (2007) ‘communication is the operating system of a society’. This is simplified to show that an operating system is required to allow the computers resources available for the programs and similar to this, communication is required to provide individuals with resources in the society. Communication is a process of exchanging information which may be carried out as written messages, spoken words or even body gestures. Effective and efficient communication is essential between project manager, project team, sponsors and stakeholder to ensure the success of the project. The communication in a project needs to be carefully planned, implemented and controlled in order for the right information is delivered at the right time to the stakeholders.

2.1.1 Causes of Inappropriate Communication Management


Lack of trust between the project manager and the team will lead to team members that don’t trust the project manager will not be open in their communications. They will tend to either shut down or challenge the project manager at every turn.


The team members do not know the value of their presence. This is due to that they are often kept in the dark and not given a clear objective of the project and an up to date progress of the project. The method of delivery of messages is unclear and will lead to misinterpretation of the message and different expectations of the project.

Poor Communicators

Some project managers just don’t know how to communicate well. This is usually not a lack of skill but a lack of focus. Project managers tend to put their least effort in communicating with the team members and those associated with the project. The information delivered will often be short and puzzling for not all the exact details is explained.


The team itself is not trained to communicate proactively as a team. This will result in the team not sharing information and learning with each other. Some project teams are comprised of members from different divisions in a company. These individuals are only temporarily associated with each other until the completion of the project. Unless these individuals are sent to training prior to the commencement of the project it will be very difficult for them to adapt to the new working environment.

2.2 Poor Project Planning

The key to any project process is good planning. Good planning helps minimize potential risks, last minute changes and provide efficient working conditions. Project planning is important for it will assess the strengths and weakness of the project team, determine the threats of the project, develop the project objectives and provide the platform for leadership and control of the project. The basis of planning involves charting. Simple charts such as checklists and Gantt charts may sometimes suffice throughout the completion of the project as long as all details and factors are taken into consideration. This form of charts is also easier to be comprehended by the stakeholders who are untrained in the management arts. However other advanced methods such as network analysis may also be used. The main point to planning is to allow some slack in the time constraint and always be prepared to make changes in the plan.

2.2.1 Causes of Poor Planning

Not Alert to Symptoms

A good project manager is one that is able to provide a detailed drafted out plan and yet notice the symptoms of failure for it. The symptoms may be:

Major gaps remained unresolved

Key stakeholders have no participation in the project

Too frequent changes in a scope

Lack of test and development resources

Multiple revisions in the timeline

Schedule Too Tight

The manager must be prepared to make allowances for unexpected variances in the project such as delays in approvals, shortages of resources or any acts of god.

Unrealistic Time Scales

The idealistic time scale is to be short and able to meet all objectives. However project managers must be careful not to be too optimistic in meeting this goal. Sometimes the time scales are set without considering the amount of work to be completed to achieve the objectives. As a result, there will probably be a delay in completion in the project thus requiring more financial resources to be added to the project.

2.3 Inappropriate Risk Management

Project risks can be predictable or completely unpredictable and it can occur at any phase of a project. Some risks are associated with a particular task whilst others may occur due to external factors outside of the project. A good risk assessment is identifying all predictable risks; assess the severity of the risks and drafting out a plan to minimize its impacts or even possible avoidance of it. It is very important to analyze and rectify a risk as soon as it is identified for any delays in rectification will put the project at a higher risk of loss or damage.

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2.3.1 Causes of Inappropriate Risk Management

Too Confident

It is encouraged to be confident in the project plan as it will increase the enthusiasm among the project team. However, the attitude of being too confident and turning a blind eye on any factors that may disrupt the progress of the project will cause catastrophic effects on the project. Such effects may be insufficient resources, project delays, demotivation of employees and even abortion of the project itself.


Some project managers perceive risks as threats to the project’s success. Therefore they will prefer to ignore the threats and solely hope that the threat will diminish itself. This obviously will not happen for there is no problem in the world that will solve itself.

Wrong Decisions

A project manager holds the decision to any trivial problems of the project. In this case when assessing risks the project manager must make the key decision of risk avoidance or risk taking. All factors must be taken into consideration prior to making the decision to prevent disturbances in meeting the project’s objectives.

Inefficient Method of Risk Assessing

To be able to efficiently assess a risk, systematic approaches such as fault trees and fish bones are applied in order to take all risks into considerations. Methods such as qualitative and quantitative analysis are then implied to determine its impact or chances. Insufficient assessing of the risks will create an act of surprise that will disrupt the progress of the project.

2.4 Inadequate Scope Management

According to (PMI 2004), Project management scope is defining and controlling what is and what is not included in the project. The importance of scope management is divided into three elements:

Ensure Sufficient Amount of Work is Done

In order to do this a clear definition of the project must be obtained. This may include identifying the exact requirements that is needed to accomplish the project’s objective, who the key stakeholders are and what is driving the project.

Ensure Unnecessary Work is Not Done

Avoid the Nice to haves. Nice to haves are additional requirements that suddenly develop as the project progresses. These additional requirements often add little value but require extra costs.

Achieve the Stated Objective

The objective of the project must be achieved. For any problems encountered during execution of the project, the manager must be able to control the changes or modifications to the scope to ensure that the objective can be accomplished.

2.4.1 Causes for Inadequate Scope Management

Incomplete Scope

An incomplete scope leads to frequent additional changes. This may drag the time scale of the project and create extra costs.

Confusing Scope

A scope that is not straight forward and clear will lead to ambiguity of stakeholders. Such ambiguities are misinterpretations of design and requirements. Confusion will affect the commitment of stakeholders and will require additional unnecessary work.

Scope Creep

Constant changes to the scope may make the project seem never ending and delay in completion. To prevent this, scope document must be finalized and not allowed to be altered unless a formal change process is carried out.

2.5 Poor Stakeholder Management

Stakeholder management is managing communications between stakeholders to discover their expectations before and during project execution to avoid ambiguity such as perceiving a successful project as a failure. According to the Association for Project Management (APM) Body of Knowledge (BoK) ‘Stakeholders are all those with an interest or role in the project or who are impacted by the project’. Examples of stakeholders are the shareholders, creditors and the project management team itself. Maintaining good communication with the stakeholder puts the project manager at an advantage for besides being able to see eye to eye on the projects progress, the stakeholder may even assist in resolving conflicts encountered by their political relations, contacts or knowledge that is not available on the project team.

2.5.1 Causes for Poor Stakeholder Management

Poor Business Plan

Some projects have a tendency to fail before it even started. This is because prior to commencing a project, sufficient financial funds must be available and in order for these funds to be available the project manager must come up with a clear and detailed business plan to attract sponsors for the project. If the plan does not impress the investors or raise confusion it will be most likely be rejected.

Poor Communication

Successful relationship with stakeholders is achieved by maintaining good communication. The key to this is proactive communication which the stakeholder is constantly updated of the progress of the project. Other than encouraging commitment from the stakeholders, proactive communication helps avoid bad rumors of project disturbance from influencing stakeholders.

Proactive communication will also alert the project manager of any potential troubles existing from senior stakeholders. This may be in the form of not providing the required support, interfering into the project without consultation and unfounded promises or commitment.

2.6 Impact of Failure Factors on Project

The aim of a project manager is to achieve success in all aspects of the project. This is reliant upon achieving the objectives in terms of cost, time and quality. The critical factor of these objectives is that it is interrelated with each other where you cannot trade off one for another in order to achieve the success of the project.

2.6.1 Quality/Cost Impact

All the failure factors stated above will increase the cost of a project which will then have an effect on the quality of the finished product depending on the project manager’s decision. For example, due to the project manager’s unorganized planning the costs have risen to complete the project. The poor planning may have been led by insufficient scope assessment, bad communication or even inefficient risk analysis. Therefore in order to meet the funds available the project manager decides to cut corners and resolve to use cheaper raw materials to complete the project. This will result in a finished product of a lower standard than specified by the customer. From this situation, by compromising quality the project is labeled as a failure even though the financial costs have not exceeded. Therefore it is of the utmost importance of the project manager to plan, analyze and communicate efficiently to achieve project success.

2.6.2 Time/Cost Impact

There is a direct relationship between time and money. Whenever a planned timescale is extended it will surely add cost to the project. The cost of a project increases as it progresses for its value and the stake it bears is higher. All the failure factors above will create disruptions in the project’s progress and eventually delay its completion. This may cause increase in costs involving work force, facilities and equipment and raw materials. For large projects, funds are usually available progressively as the project manager completes a phase of the project. A completed phase will then be inspected and certified by an independent quality surveyor hired by the customer. Certified invoices will then be issued to the customer. The project’s manager revenue will be delayed if the phase is not completed within the time scale specified or not up to the desired standard. The project manager will then have to finance the extra costs himself which may result in severe cash flow problems. Delays on large project can easily add additional costs. Therefore it is very important that the project is planned, analyzed, monitored and managed carefully to avoid disruptions in its execution.

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2.7 Examples of Factor Failures Affecting Projects

2.7.1 Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The 787 dreamliner is a 240 seater aircraft currently being developed by Boeing. Its design involves 50% of the manufacturing materials being composites makes it the first composite airliner in the world. However, due to certain drawbacks Boeing announced its sixth delay for its maiden flight since September 2007. The new planned date for the maiden flight is now shifted to the end of 2009. The delivery of the first 787 is also delayed to the end of 2010 which is a 30 month delay from the originally expected date of June 2008. Various factors were the cause of this delay and will be explained below.

Poor Stakeholder Management

Prior to the design of the 787, Boeing planned to develop a midsized aircraft capable of travelling at sonic speed (speed of sound). Even though its operating costs were higher, Boeing assured its customers that the sonic cruiser would promote customer satisfaction by saving time. However, due to the September 11, 2001 attacks and increased petroleum prices the customers became less interested in the project. Thus as Boeing informed its customers of the increasing airframe costs the customers immediately pulled out of the project resulting in Boeing announcing the abortion of the Sonic Cruiser project on December 2002.

Inadequate Scope Management

For the production of the 787, Boeing decided on a new approach as a resolve to reduce costs. This new approach was to outsource the major components of the 787 to different manufacturing companies around the world. For examples, the wings were produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Nagoya (Japan), ailerons and flaps by Boeing Australia, stabilizers by Alenia Aeronautica (Italy) and these parts were to be assembled in Everett, Washington (Boeing’s Main Plant). By outsourcing Boeing did not specify the exact details of the parts and encouraged the manufacturers to speak out their ideas develop solutions for problems. However, when progressing to the assembly of the aircraft tests displayed the fuselage is not up to the desired strength and failed the testing. Due to this defect, Boeing engineers are back at the drawing board to solve the issue.

Inappropriate Communication Management

A current major problem in the design is electronic integration. Unlike current aircrafts the 787 is designed to operate flight controls by using electrical power to reduce weight and reduce complexity. However by employing three different competing companies to integrate their systems together has proven to be a problem. Smiths Aerospace, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell International are known as fierce competitors in the aviation industry. Therefore when struggling to get their software to mesh with each other’s, the atmosphere turns stressful and the software engineers returned to the competitive attitude they actually are.

Inappropriate Risk Management

For Boeing to be announcing its sixth delay is not displaying a very good image of achieving its objectives. Sequences of problems arising due to technical difficulties experienced by the 787 are acting like a domino effect on the progress of 787 making less room for mistakes for Boeing. Although primarily there were 910 orders on the 787, 70 of those orders have been cancelled due to the delay. The current situation to meet the deadline for the maiden flight the end of this year is building tension among Boeing’s engineers to solve current structural problems. Aside from technical problems the delay is also costing Boeing a net loss of $1.6 billion according to Flightglobal.com.

Poor Project Planning

According to Cohan (2009), another factor for the delay is due to Boeings change of management plan. Boeing has long adopted a ‘command and control’ type of leadership in the company. However for the 787 project, the top executives decide to enforce a new type of leadership known as Transformational Leadership (TL). TL is a form of leadership where employers encourage employees to make decisions, have ownership and take responsibility for any failure or success. In the past, Boeing had given suppliers very detailed information of what is needed when it outsourced its components. However, with the 787 Boeing allowed the suppliers to do the design and manufacturing. This is found to be the source of why there were problems during the final assembly at Everett. Due to this factor, Boeing has reverted to the previous type of leadership to prevent any more delays and other assembly related problems from reoccurring.


3.0 Analysis of Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)

PMBOK is a project management guide that provides the fundamentals of project management that can be applied on a variety of projects such as construction, engineering, research and so on. It provides the guidance on the application of project management skills, tools, knowledge and techniques that can enhance the success of a project. PMBOK was first published by the Project Management Institute (PMI) in 1987 and is currently the widest standard of project management used. PMBOK consists of five basic process groups and nine knowledge areas typical of almost all projects.

Initiation Process

Authorizing the project or phase

Planning Process

Defining and selecting the best methods to achieve the project’s objectives

Execution Process

Coordination of resources to perform the plan

Controlling Process

Monitoring and controlling the project’s progress to ensure the project’s objectives is achieved and to layout corrective action if any variances occur

Closing Process

Concluding the project

3.1 How PMBOK Can Mitigate Failure Factors

3.1.1 Communication Management

Communications management provides a link for information and individual for efficient communication to take place. Communication is an exchange of information between individuals that are associated in the project such as stakeholders, project team, project manager and the public itself. Failure for an organized communication system to take place will create factors for project failure as stated in the previous chapter. Therefore it is important that everyone associated in the project understands how communication will affect the project as a whole. PMBOK has outlined the guidelines for efficient communication management which are:

Communication Planning

Plan the information and communication needs of those associated with the project. This includes determining what information is to be delivered to whom and when it is to be delivered. The project manager also has to plan the communication method to be applied to different individuals associated with the project.

Information Distribution

The process of making information to those who need it according to the management plan. The project manager must also be prepared to provide information on occasional unexpected requests of information. Methods of information distribution may be in the form of project meetings, hard copy documents, electronic communication such as emails, and other work management tools

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Performance Reporting

Involves collection and distribution of performance information such as status reports, progress measurements and forecasts of progress. This usually provides information on scope, schedule, cost and quality. The performance report collects progress information and compares it to a reference baseline.

3.1.2 Stakeholder Management

According to PMBOK, ‘stakeholder management refer to managing communication to satisfy the needs of, and resolve issues with, project stakeholder’. By maintaining a good relationship between the stakeholders, it increases the potential of keeping the project on track and limits disturbances in the projects progress. To ensure efficient stakeholder management PMBOK has analysed two main guidelines to be implemented:

Identify Stakeholders

Process of recognizing those who are impacted by the project. This includes documenting their interest, participation and involvement in the project. Stakeholders of a project may consists of individuals that possess different authority levels thus may have a big influence on the outcome of the project. The project manager must identify the key stakeholders and develop a strategy to approach each stakeholder and determine their level of involvement to mitigate negative impacts and encourage positive influence.

Manage Stakeholder Expectations

This is the process of knowing the needs of the stakeholder and informing of arising issues as the project progresses. It involves negotiating and influencing the stakeholder regarding their expectations to achieve an agreement relevant to the project goals, resolving issues that is disrupting the project and informing of future problems and assessing them. The key to this is to maintain proactive communication with the stakeholder for the influence, knowledge and skill possessed by the stakeholder may not be available on the project team.

3.1.3 Risk Management

Risk management is a process of identifying potential problems that may occur, assessing them and determine whether to avoid, transfer or mitigate the impacts of the risk. By using PMBOK as a guideline, it has outlined six processes to avoid risk as being an act of surprise and instead an anticipation of events. The processes are:

Plan Risk Management

Process of determining procedures to approach risk and the activities to be performed for managing risks. This is crucial to ensure that sufficient resources and time is available when the activities are to be performed.

Identify Risk

Identify potential problems that may occur as the project progresses. It is a constantly progressing procedure for new risks may be identified as the project progresses.

Qualitative Risk Analysis

An analysis of determining risks of the highest priority. Prioritizing is in terms of probability of occurrence, impact on objectives and other factors such as time frame of response and constraints on cost, scope and quality.

Quantitative Risk Analysis

An analysis performed on risks that have been prioritized by the qualitative risk analysis. The analysis will determine the characteristics of the loss and assign a numerical rating to it.

Plan Risk Response

Planning responses to risks identified during the analysis. Such responses may be to avoid, mitigate, transfer or even retention of the risks. The responses must take into account the significance of the risk, cost effectiveness, realistic and timely within the projects objectives and must be agreed by all parties.

Monitor and Control Risk

Risk monitoring and control is and ongoing processes in order to be able to identify potential new risks and keep track of existing ones. It enhances the opportunities to reduce or eliminate threats to protect the project’s objectives.

3.1.4 Scope Management

In order to avoid doing the unnecessary a system of defining and controlling what is to be included into the project must be implemented to avoid waste of resources and costs. This is scope management. PMBOK has laid out five basic guidelines to be followed to avoid doing the unnecessary.

Plan Scope

Collecting requirements that define and documents the project’s features needed to fulfil the stakeholder’s needs and expectations in the project.

Define Scope

Providing a detailed description of the projects deliverables and the work needed to be carried out to achieve it.

Create Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

WBS is a process of dividing the work in a hierarchical manner into small, manageable groups. The WBS gives a pictorial definition of the project to assist the stakeholder in viewing the deliverable.

Verify Scope

Scope verification is a process of receiving the acceptance by the stakeholder on a completed scope or deliverable.

Control Scope

Scope control is the process of monitoring the progress of the scope and managing any changes to be done to it. This is to avoid scope creep, thus any changes must be performed through an Integrated Change control process.

3.1.5 Project Planning

A project plan is to create a guideline to achieve the projects objective. The project plan will display a flow diagram of processes which will lead to accomplishing objectives. The plan must also take into consideration of the time scale, resources, workforce and any potential risks to the project. As specified by PMBOK, planning of a project will integrate some knowledge areas processes with each other depending on their inputs and outputs. The guidelines for an effective project plan are provided by PMBOK.

Develop Project Charter

Project charters are issued by the sponsors of the project. It is a document that formally authorizes a project and is a summary of the project. The contents of a project charter are business needs, current customer requirements, project purpose, milestone schedule and the budget summary.

Develop Preliminary Scope Statement

This process involves defining of what is needed to be accomplished in the project. The preliminary scope statement is documented based on information from the sponsor which will include the characteristics and boundaries of the project.

Develop Project Management Plan

Project management plan is a document that defines integrates and coordinates all subsidiary plans into one document. The project management plan displays how the project will be carried out monitored and controlled and closed which are the five basic processes of PMBOK. The project management plan is revised and updated whenever a change occurs to the plan.

4.0 Conclusion

Project Managers are like bridges that links key pieces together. Therefore, to reach those pieces effectively they are required to possess a balance of skills and knowledge and are able to apply the skill and knowledge efficiently. Project management frameworks such as PMBOK are merely used as guidance and will not promise the success of a project. The project management team is responsible for determining what is appropriate in any project and the decision is made by the project manager. Project Managers should have a clear understanding of the project’s objectives and strive to achieve them. As mentioned above, careful planning of a project is essential for its success. Other factors that also contribute to this are good communication, detailed risk analysis, clear definition of scope and proactive relationship among stakeholders. By using these factors as guidelines, it is quite certain that impacts for projects failure can be mitigated.

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