Series on Project Success and Failure: Some deficiencies in published causes of project failures


Article 2 of 6 

By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia



This is the second article of a series on project successes and failures. The first article (Stretton 2014j) looked at varying criteria currently being used for project successes / failures, and at the very meager data on success / failure rates. The available data gave partial coverage of software projects and mega-projects success / failure rates, but next-to-nothing on any other project types or application areas.

It was concluded that it was vitally important for the project management community to establish and agree on success and failure criteria which are widely applicable; and for project researchers and practitioners to join forces to begin developing comprehensive success / failure data covering all significant project types and project management application areas.

This second article extends the range of the first article by looking at some published causes of project failures. It attempts a classification of these causes which might be useful in helping improve success rates at the three success levels discussed in the first article.

I found two listings of causes of project failures for software development projects, two for unspecified projects at large, and four for major projects and mega-projects. Whilst these are far too few to be in any way representative of the broader situation, some interesting data emerged, as will be seen.

Some 42 different causes of failure emerged, many of them repeated in various listings, as will be seen in the following four tables. The main groupings which emerge from these listings are (in descending order of frequency of citation):

  • Project initiation-related causes of failure
  • Project management (PM) operational-related causes of failure
  • Lack of organizational support causes
  • Project management (PM) leadership-related causes of failure
  • Other (external) causes

The first two groups of causes of failure collectively comprise 70% of all causes sampled. These are then broadly linked to the three “levels of success” discussed in the first article. Some key linkages will be discussed in more detail in later articles.

Finally, a suggestion / challenge is made for the global management community to create a framework to develop and share project success / failure data, covering the widest possible range of project management types and application areas.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles on project successes and failures is by Alan Stretton, PhD (Hon), Life Fellow of AIPM (Australia), a pioneer in the field of professional project management and one of the most widely recognized voices in the practice of program and project management.   Long retired, Alan is still accepting some of the most challenging research and writing assignments; he is a frequent contributor to the PM World Journal. See his author profile below.

About the Author

141215-pmwj30-new-stretton-PHOTOAlan Stretton, PhD   flag-australia   

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 140 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/.