Responsibilities for “project” successes/failures?



By Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon)

Sydney, Australia



I first discussed project successes and failure in a series of six articles in this journal, starting with Stretton 2014j. In the second article of that series (Stretton 2015a) I assembled a list of 42 different causes of “project” failures, derived from the quite sparse data then available in the project management literature.  I emphasised at the time that these causes of “project” failure did not claim to be necessarily representative of projects at large, but that they appeared to be indicative enough to be worth further consideration. Importantly, it was also evident that many of these causes of failure were not due to deficiencies in project management itself, but were actually due to other non-project parties.

I returned to these materials in Stretton 2018a, in which I related these causes of project failure to an organisational strategic business framework. The latter derived from two articles immediately preceding Stretton 2018a, which were expanded on later in a series of five articles on Organisational strategic planning and execution, starting with Stretton 2018d.

Stretton 2018a indicated that pre-execution causes of failure (strategy- and project-initiation causes) comprised nearly 40% of the total. It also indicated that project management was seldom involved in these pre-execution activities. However, I did not discuss key decision-making responsibilities in such pre-execution activities – which is one of the topics to be addressed in this article.

Since compiling the original lists of causes of project failure, the most detailed general discussion of such causes I have seen is Jenner 2015. He has researched project failures in much more depth and detail than I attempted, and identified many causes of project failure, including some not covered in Stretton 2018a. This has widened the scope of my enquiries about successes and failures, and associated responsibilities. I therefore propose to relate Jenner’s causes of “project” failure to an upgraded organisational strategic business framework, and then to look at how, and to whom, responsibilities for certain groups of failures could (or should?) be assigned.


First, it should be said that there is very little validated data on project successes and/or failures in the project management literature, as I discussed in Stretton 2014j. Additionally, criteria for defining project success or failure vary very substantially.

Project failures tend to be expressed in terms of cost over-runs, late completion, and/or failure to deliver expected outcomes. However, acceptable tolerance levels in relation to what constitutes failure appear to vary widely. For example, as indicated in Stretton 2014j, in the cases of the two types of projects about which we have the most information on incidences of failure, tolerance rates for mega-projects appear to be substantially more liberal than for software development projects.

However, there are also other substantial differences in criteria used, including a category in the Standish Group data for software projects between “success” and “failure” which they call “challenged”, by which they mean completed and operational projects which are over budget, late, and with fewer features and functions than initially specified. So, overall we are far from having consistent criteria for defining project successes and failures. Currently, as Jenner 2015 puts it, “’Success’ and ‘failure’ are …. often contestable notions”.

None-the-less, irrespective of the criteria used, there is wide-spread agreement that the incidence of failed projects and programs is much higher than could be reasonably expected. However, when it comes to quantifying these, we simply do not have sufficient validated information to be able to make confident assessments. Jenner 2015 summarises many contributions on the subject, which appear to indicate an overall failure rate of 50%-70%. But he then comments as follows:


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How to cite this article: Stretton, A. (2018). Responsibilities for “project” successes/failures? PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue X – October. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/pmwj76-Nov2018-Stretton-responsibilities-for-project-successes-failures.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/.