Series on Project Successes and Failures: Some deficiencies in data on project successes and failures


Article 1 of 6

By Alan Stretton

Sydney, Australia


Many people in the project management community are concerned about what has been happening in practice with project performance – e.g. about the current position with project successes and failures; whether project performance has actually been improving; and the extent to which our efforts over many decades have helped, or failed to, improve such performance. This is the first article of a series, which is initially concerned with the current position with project successes and failures, and later with approaches to increasing project success levels.

As is indicated in the title, this first article looks at some deficiencies in available data on project successes and failures. Two types of deficiencies are discussed. The first relates to substantial differences in criteria used by various people as to what constitutes project success and/or failure, and the frequent absence of any stated criteria. The second is that data on project success / failure rates are very sparse indeed. There is partial coverage of two application areas, namely software development projects and mega-projects, but next-to-nothing on other project management application areas. Finally, a “levels of success” model is introduced, which adds another dimension to success / failure criteria, and will feature prominently in some later articles in this series.


The best discussions I have found on variations in criteria being used to establish project success / failure are by Dalcher 2014, who discusses this complex subject at length under the headings “Beyond simple success measures”, and “Rethinking project success”. I will not attempt to summarize the many issues he covers, but discuss those which appear to be most relevant to this series of articles.

Shortly we will be looking at some success / failure data on software projects. As will be seen, the majority of the cases discussed by Dalcher define success as meeting all the criteria associated with the budget, schedule and functionality – i.e. “project management” success. Further, failure is defined as not meeting all of the same criteria. 


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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

alan-stretton-bioAlan 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/.