A commentary on strategy formulation-related causes

of “project” failures in an organisational strategic context



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia



In a recent article in this journal (Stretton 2018k) I discussed causes of so-called “project” failures in an organisation strategic management context. It was found that over a half of these failures (which were mainly derived from Jenner 2015) were not directly attributable to project management per se, but to other entities, including top-level strategic and/or general management, strategic portfolio management, and particularly directors and/or managers responsible for strategy development.

Additionally, with only two partial exceptions, these causes of failure were primarily related to post-strategy formulation stages of organisational strategic management. In an earlier article in this journal (Stretton 2015a) I had identified some causes of “project” failure, additional to those in Stretton 2018k, which were particularly relevant to strategy formulation. This article comments on some aspects of these additional causes of failure.

But we start with the organisational strategic management framework to which these causes of failure relate.


The strategic framework I am using is from Stretton 2018k, shown in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: The organisational strategic management framework from Stretton 2018k

The main reason I have been using an organisational strategic management framework to discuss causes of “project” failures is that it provides a context which appears to be relevant to most projects, irrespective of their type, origins, application area, etc. My reasoning has always been that projects are means to help the achievement of broader ends (e.g. Stretton 2016b,c,d,e).

Broader ends can be hugely variable, but if we represent them as an organisation’s (or equivalent body’s) strategic objectives, we appear to be covering most, if not all, types of broader ends. In associating projects with organisational strategic objectives, I have argued previously (e.g. Stretton 2017k) that, no matter how projects originate – i.e. whether in deliberate or emergent ways – sooner or later they become integral components of organisational strategic plans, and of their execution. The strategic framework is not a static one. In allowing for the addition of emergent strategic initiatives, the organisation’s strategies can, and should be, changed to respond appropriately to emergent factors in an increasingly dynamic external environment


In Figure 2 below I have abbreviated the strategic management framework of Figure 1 to its headings. Against this I have summarised the causes of failure listed by Jenner 2015, which were discussed in some detail in Stretton 2018k. I have added causes of failure from Stretton 2015a which most directly relate to Strategy formulation. These are indicated by solid bullet points. The hollow bullet points indicate additional causes I want to discuss.

Figure 2: Adding Strategy Formulation-related causes of failure to a summary of Jenner’s causes of failure

I had some difficulty finding a satisfactory way of grouping the causes of failure which appear to most directly relate to Strategy formulation. I think the main reason is that many of these causes also apply to later stages of the organisational strategic management framework. This is also the case with some of the causes from Jenner 2015 that I listed under Strategy development in Stretton 2018k, particularly Lack of effective engagement with stakeholders, and Unrealistic cost estimates and/or benefits forecasts.

Both of the latter appeared to me to be very applicable to the Strategy formulation stage (as well as execution stages), and I decided to use these as sub-headings to cover several of the causes of failure cited in Stretton 2015a. The remainder appear under the sub-heading Other external causes – all as shown in Figure 2.

I will now discuss these additional detailed causes of failure under the above three sub-headings.


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How to cite this paper: Stretton, A. (2018). A commentary on strategy formulation-related causes of “project” failures in an organisational strategic context, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue XII (December). Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/pmwj77-Dec2018-Stretton-strategy-related-causes-of-project-failures-commentary.pdf

About the Author

Alan 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 190 professional articles and papers.  Alan can be contacted at [email protected].

To see more works by Alan Stretton, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/alan-stretton/.