Top 5 Reasons IT Projects Fail

27 May 2021

And What Project Leaders Need to Know to Prevent it

Statistics suggest that upwards of 75% of major IT projects fail. They are considered failures because they did not deliver the anticipated benefits, they were delivered late, key milestones were missed, and/or there are budget overruns.

While it is important, especially when trying something new, to have a “Fail Fast” mentality, delivering a key project within budget, scope, and timeline is an achievable goal. Causes for project failure can be diverse; overly aggressive timelines, overlooked requirements, underestimated costs, unforeseen complications, a lack of governance, insufficient resources and human error can all lead to project failure.

But what are the root causes for these issues, and how can we prevent them from the earliest stages of a project?


5) Unclear Definition of Success

Every project is implemented to target a predefined outcome, but that should not reduce your project to the simple fulfilment of requirements. On paper, organizations are said to perceive success with quantitative objectivity. In reality – what defines a project’s success can be highly subjective, with varied opinion among stakeholders on what actually defines success.

Without a clear, centralized definition of success the project is subject to differing criteria from all stakeholders and placed in a compromising position. The lack of a precise definition of project success can create significant problems with scope-creep, timelines and project completion. Clearly defining what success is, is critical to achieving and demonstrating the value of a project on completion or at the end of each phase.

Project leaders must ask the questions, “what are the criteria that will be used to determine success or failure?” and “who has the authority and right to pronounce that the project is a success?” An in-depth stakeholder analysis, in tandem with requirements documentation can clearly inform criteria for success and reduce the risk of project failure. Documenting these criteria for success in a centrally available document, that is regularly referenced throughout the project lifecycle will ensure the definition of success is clear and attainable.


4) Scope Creep Leading to Missed Deadlines

One of the most common challenges facing IT projects is ‘scope creep’. ‘Scope’ constitutes all of the actions the project team must take, and every action they must not. ‘Freezing’ or guarding Scope of Work is a major responsibility and challenge of project management to ensure projects progress on time and to target. Scope creep is not inevitable and can be prevented in large part by ensuring Requirements Documentation and Scope Definition are extensively researched at the project’s outset, and through effective scope change control.

Project Management must actively question requests for work and only accept new work with clear agreement of it being within or outside the project’s scope. In the event a change of scope, Project Management must document change-of-scope in a way that shows the genuine impact of the change and navigate from there.


3) Poor Communications and Stakeholder Buy-in

Poor communication with your team, stakeholder or vendor communication can be the Achilles Heel of your IT project and can result in reduced productivity, missed deadlines and budget creep, misunderstandings around project goals, can cause team members to work in conflicting methods and disengage senior stakeholders.

Although project management communications best practice is well documented, it is often not fully enacted. To ensure success, communication management must be the ground zero priority of project leaders. Planning what is communicated, when, with whom and how is pivotal to preventing your project grinding to a halt or being turned over by differing opinion.

Planning communication can also dramatically increase engagement. Communicating too much, too often, too little or through limited mediums can also fail to engage your audience, aim to understand the communications preferences of stakeholders as early on in the project as possible, to ensure rapport built quickly.


2) Project Tasks Aren’t Given Priority

Team members across departments are all busy. So how can you ensure your project takes priority? Allocate adequate time and resources to your project.

Organizations that fail to dedicate adequate time and human resources to IT projects, will fail to deliver them on time, on scope, and on budget. In these cases, companies that do not form and dedicated teams or team leaders to completing priority projects or project tasks will be subject to relying on team members’ individually prioritizing project tasks on top of their existing workload. This often results in delayed project tasks and eventually, delayed projects.

If team members cannot be assigned full-time, blocks of time or full days should be staggered throughout the work week and scaled up or down based on project demand with strict adherence to enable their participation. Project Leaders must take responsibility for team members capacity to deliver project work, or risk significant delay to project timelines.


1) Poor Business Case

Many of the issues that cause projects to fail emanate out of inadequate business cases. The business case is a major opportunity to clearly outline a path ahead for your proposed solution, at the very beginning. Creating an effective business case is the foundation for a project’s life, identifying its sponsor, outlining its goals and what an early vision of success looks like, the business case underpins all other project documentation and so much of the project’s outcomes can be won or lost within its pages.

A solid business case that defines the problem, the importance of the project and what will be improved, the project approach including dependencies and constraints, the Cost and the Benefits is essential. An effective project team/lead that can translate the business case into a compelling vision, gather champions and garner the support and advocacy of an Executive Sponsor will be in an excellent position to bring new capabilities with meaningful benefits to an organization.



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