The #1 Cause of Project Failure

By Harris Clarke
Aug 10, 2021

When you’re studying to take the Project Management Professional Certification exam, you may come across this question: What is the number one cause of project failure? 

I went to lunch with someone who took the exam. They said that most people answer that question incorrectly. During the certification, they teach the three project management principles that govern project delivery:

  1. Scope of work: How much work needs to get done?
  2. Available resources to do that work: Who can work on this and when?
  3. Due date: When does it need to be finished?

Most people answer one of these principles, but it’s not the correct answer to the question. 

The correct answer to the number one cause of project failure is stakeholder communication and engagement. Excellent communication and engagement with project stakeholders is the difference between project failure and project success.

If you Google “causes of project failure”, you’ll come across a bunch of lists of reasons for project failure; however, none of them really emphasize the impact of stakeholder engagement. This is because there are many ways to make someone disinterested––being unorganized, insufficient planning, lack of resources––but when someone loses that interest, there goes the project. 

40-50% of candidates who take the PMP Certification exam fail. There are so many aspects to projects and how to manage them, but here’s the big picture: projects need people. People keep projects moving. 

Honestly, it’s okay for something to go wrong in a project––it happens all the time. You can take preventative measures, but it doesn’t guarantee a perfect process. If you’re transparent about mistakes and deadlines, there’s a greater chance people will stay engaged. Take Amazon as an example. When you order a package, they give you an estimated delivery date. If the unexpected happens, they apologize and inform you of the delay. It seems so simple, but there are some companies that can’t give a timely and accurate due date!

If you provide transparency to stakeholders when there’s a bump in the road, they’ll stay engaged, and the project will succeed.

Harris Clarke

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