A case for re-focusing on basic processes/procedures underlying effective project management


By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


The small amount of analytical data available on project failures, together with  substantial anecdotal evidence, suggest that project failure rates are still at a level which most would regard as far too high. A recent paper in this journal gave eight “top reasons” why projects are unsuccessful, all of which consist of failures to do the most basic things properly. It therefore appears timely to re-focus attention on these basic fundamental aspects of project management. This paper discusses my personal choices (based on 60+ years of experience) of the nature of these fundamental aspects. It is recognised that others may well opt for other choices. My choices comprise seven separate topics, which are discussed under the following three main headings.

  • Are we doing the right projects to deliver the right outcomes/benefits?
  • Are we doing the basic planning and control processes right?
  • Are our people engagement/management skills really effective?


Recently I was shown some data (from the Standish Group) which indicated that the rate of failure of projects in 2008 had not diminished significantly from that applying in 2000. On the other hand, there are evidently some sources which indicate that there has been some improvement in project performance in recent times. Overall, we do not appear to have definitive data on project success/failure data across the board, nor about relevant trends. But, without such data, can we really know how our efforts to advance the cause and effectiveness of project management have progressed?

In spite of the scarcity of definitive data, we do appear to have wide-spread agreement that project failure rates are still at a level which most would regard as far too high. There is substantial anecdotal evidence to support this recognition. The natural question in response to this recognition is, “Why is this so?”

There have been many responses to the project success/failure question over the years. One of the most recent is a “Commentary” in this journal, by Morreale 2012, which gives eight “top reasons” why projects are unsuccessful. All of these reasons reflect failure to do the most basic project-related things properly.

Putting the question and the (partial) answers together, it appears reasonable to suggest that many project failures occur because the most basic project management fundamentals are being neglected. It therefore seems timely to re-focus attention on these.


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About the Author

alan strettonflag-australiaAlan Stretton, PhD    

Faculty Corps, University of Management

and Technology, Arlington, VA (USA)

Life Fellow, AIPM (Australia)

Alan Stretton is one of the pioneers of modern project management.  He is currently a member of the Faculty Corps for the University of Management & Technology (UMT), USA.  In 2006 he retired from a position as Adjunct Professor of Project Management in the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), Australia, which he joined in 1988 to develop and deliver a Master of Project Management program.   Prior to joining UTS, Mr. Stretton worked in the building and construction industries in Australia, New Zealand and the USA for some 38 years, which included the project management of construction, R&D, introduction of information and control systems, internal management education programs and organizational change projects.  He has degrees in Civil Engineering (BE, Tasmania) and Mathematics (MA, Oxford), and an honorary PhD in strategy, programme and project management (ESC, Lille, France).  Alan was Chairman of the Standards (PMBOK) Committee of the Project Management Institute (PMI®) from late 1989 to early 1992.  He held a similar position with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), and was elected a Life Fellow of AIPM in 1996.  He was a member of the Core Working Group in the development of the Australian National Competency Standards for Project Management.  He has published over 120 professional articles.  Alan can be contacted at [email protected].