Your Project Failed, Did You Fail to Identify Warning Signs?


By Pilar Plazas, MS, MBA, PMP, CSM

Colombia and USA



All Project Managers have been exposed to the belief that when principles, tools and frameworks are used correctly they inevitably lead to successful projects. Many Project Managers believe they will always succeed where others have failed. Have you fallen into this trap? If so, you are not the only one. Sadly, research shows that projects fail more often than anyone would like to admit.

The overall failure rate for projects is yet to be determined. The low end of the spectrum indicates some 37% of projects within a given year were at risk, recovered or failed (PM Solutions, 2011). Other reports have indicated a failure rate as high as 60%.

The bottom line is that projects fail. In many cases there are warnings that, when addressed in a timely manner, can help save projects. Moreover, one needs to keep in mind that the causes of failure can be almost as numerous and diverse as the projects themselves. In an attempt to help other professionals in the field, I have identified some of the most commonly overlooked factors that cause project failure.


Project Managers have multiple principles, tools and frameworks at their disposal to make their role more effective. All of those resources are important and helpful. However, a large percentage of projects seem to fail or end sooner than planned. When a project fails, its team fails with it. The work they were developing did not have the anticipated impact and they may even experience a temporary low morale. Moreover, there is an economic impact to the business when projects are not successful: project failure is the cost of capital that could have been used for profitable initiatives. There are numerous factors impacting project completion.

Early on the Project Manager must identify risk factors impacting his/her own project and mitigate them appropriately. This article focuses on risk factors intrinsic to the company and team. However, keep in mind that you can also experience external influences such as rapid industry, market or technological changes.

Dismal Communication: The most common reason of project failure is a lack of communication or miscommunication. A Project Manager needs to actively and constantly involve his/her team members. Communication needs to be a two way-street, on which the flow is based on its stakeholders’ needs. All team members need to openly participate. Teams that do not take the initiative, inquire, or challenge assignments, may not consider the downstream impact of their code. They only see communication as the way of receiving information instead of the two-way street the productive process requires it to be. Not surprisingly, in these cases the delivered product does not meet customer requirements or requires a large number of code fixes during testing. Likewise, Project Managers that do not pay close attention to the information received from the team may inaccurately report progress to stakeholders until it is too late to change the course. There is never too much communication, there is only wrong means of communication.

Inadequate identification of Project Stakeholders: At the beginning of the project it is also necessary to identify all stakeholders, their influence, and their needs. As the project progresses, iterations are useful to review stakeholders. Poor Communication was previously mentioned as a barrier to success; however communication alone is not the problem. It is intimately related to proper stakeholder analysis. Keep in mind that not all information is equally important to everyone. Before communication comes into play, proper stakeholder identification is required. It is necessary to identify who needs to know what information, when they need it, and by what means it needs to be delivered. In other words, the first step before disseminating information is to identify all stakeholders and then their particular communication needs. This is not only useful to meet project requirements, but also to remove obstacles when they arise. This also helps to ensure buy-in for the project so it is fully adopted after implementation.


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About the Author


pmwj35-Jun2015-Plazas-PHOTOPilar Plazas

Bogotá, Colombia
Atlanta, USA

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Pilar Plazas started her career as a Microbiologist after graduating from Los Andes University in her native Bogotá, Colombia. She soon became certified in Molecular Biology through a partnership between Los Andes University and Harvard University. She participated in the research and development of synthetic vaccines before moving to Springfield, MO to obtain her MBA from Drury University. She later attended Trident University where she completed her Master of Science in Clinical Research Administration with Summa Cum Laude honors. She gained experience in non-profit, private, and public sectors.

During the past 10 years, Pilar has been in Atlanta, Georgia, USA working with Fortune 500 companies in roles of increasing responsibility. These roles include; Global Project Manager, Program Lead, Senior Project Manager and IT Project Manager. She has an impeccable record of success in project management and review engagements. She also has demonstrated the ability to recognize business objectives, foresee the solutions, develop approaches, estimate resources, and deliver successful projects. She is considered highly skilled in communicating with multi-cultural project teams, clients, and senior management.

Pilar is actively involved in the community mentoring the next generation of professionals in her field of expertise. She holds PMP and CSM Certifications and can be contacted via www.linkedin.com/in/pilarplazas