5 of the most common signs of project failure and how to avoid them

5 of the most common signs of project failure and how to avoid them. Projects fail; It is a fact. According to a PwC study of more than 10,640 projects, only a small fraction of companies (2.5% to be exact) complete 100% of their projects successfully.

But what does “failure” of the project mean?

Project failure can refer to any number of common issues ranging from minor inconveniences to full-blown disasters. You may go over budget, miss deadlines, fall short of your goals, or meet your success criteria and definition of done.

Almost every project you work on will encounter some level of “failure”. But your task as a project manager is to minimize these losses. So how do you spot the signs of project failure before you take over? Stay with us to answer this question.

What are the common symptoms of project failure and what should be done to prevent them?

Projects rarely fail without warning. Here are the most common signs of project failure and how to spot them before it’s too late.

1- Unclear goals

According to CB Insights, the number one reason most companies fail is a lack of market demand. If your team is not aligned with the right goals, it will be on the fast track to failure.

Project objectives are the desired outcomes of a project. There is no way to truly succeed in a project if you are not sure of your goals and what you want to achieve.

How can unclear goals destroy projects?

Let’s say you are creating a new project planner. You know you want your planner to help people get more organized. But beyond that, you haven’t given much thought to the main goals of the planner.

Is it suitable for marketing managers? Construction project managers? Or is it intended for freelancers?

Without knowing why the project planner was created, it will be impossible to achieve specific goals while working on it.

How can unclear goals destroy projects
How can unclear goals destroy projects
Warning signs to watch out for

No one can agree on the purpose of your project. You might know what you want to do (create a planner that helps people organize their schedules, but you don’t know why it’s important or what features will help you achieve your goals.)

what should we do

Start by setting better project goals and recruiting the team.

Project goals can be specific products and assets (such as ready-made software) or something less tangible such as “productivity improvement”. You need to define what you want to achieve.

Use the SMART framework to clarify goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, time-bound, and achievable.

Goals aren’t just for planning. The more your project team and stakeholders understand what you’re trying to achieve, the more receptive you’ll be.

2- Poor communication

Teams are communicating and collaborating more than ever before. But more does not always equal better.

With project management tools, daily video stand-ups, team chat channels, and email, people can easily be influenced by all the different ways of communication.

How can poor communication destroy projects?

Let’s say you’ve just started your latest project and can’t wait to get started.

Hoping to make it easier for your team to communicate and track progress, you set up a team chat, two separate project management boards, weekly calls, debriefings, and stand-ups.

Your team tries to keep up with all the different communication tools, but somehow updates get sent to the wrong platforms, email chains get lost, and project tasks don’t get updated on your project management boards.

Warning signs to watch out for

Team communication spans many tools: messaging, chat, project management tools, calls, and emails. It becomes difficult when team members have to check the status of different projects or have to find what they need in different channels.

what should we do

Create and share a communication plan that explains when and where updates should be sent.

Your communication plan should include the following:

  • The type of information needed to communicate
  • What information should be given to whom?
  • Which communication channels and tools to use?
  • Timetable for providing information
  • How to manage internal and external communications

Also, try running effective meetings. Your team will thank you.

How can poor communication destroy projects
How can poor communication destroy projects

3- Scope creep

Scope creep is when your project’s deliverables expand without additional budget or time.

When you’re trying to please customers or stakeholders, it’s easy to say yes to everything. But saying yes too much can cause your team to become overwhelmed and try to do too many things at once.

Range creep is deadly because small changes in your original range can end up being big problems down the road.

How can scope creep destroy projects?

Let’s say you’re building a bug tracker for a software development agency.

As the weeks pass and you make good progress on the initial request, your client starts submitting several new requests. He wants a mobile app in addition to the desktop app. While you can technically build these, it will add hours of work to your team’s full schedule.

In the end, when you miss your deadline or go over your budget, no one will remember that you were so “kind” to agree to the extra work.

Warning signs to watch out for

When project deliverables are constantly changing or expanding, it indicates that your project may be a victim of scope creep.

Taking on too many tasks will lengthen your project timeline and increase costs. While you may want to give your client or stakeholders plenty of opportunity to grow their money or increase their value, it can get out of hand and cause scope creep.

what should we do

Make sure you set your boundaries from the start and stick to them.

Create a scope of work document so that all team members, stakeholders, and customers know what to expect from the project.

And if your domain needs to change, be sure to follow a change control process. In this way, you can easily check and approve the necessary changes before updating your workflow.

4- Unrealistic expectations

While scope creep happens after work has begun, another sign of project failure is setting unrealistic goals before starting.

Setting unrealistic expectations can be like asking your team to do things they don’t have experience in or being overly optimistic about how long a project will take and not allowing enough time to complete things.

Unrealistic expectations
Unrealistic expectations
How can unrealistic expectations destroy projects?

Let’s say you run a website design business and your client has requested a simple redesign of their website along with SEO consulting and a complete content strategy.

While this is within your team’s area of expertise, two members have recently quit meaning that instead of having five team members working on the project, you only have three.

Considering that each team member has experience working on these types of projects, you believe that despite the lack of staff, you will not need to add extra time. But your team struggles to align itself with project demands and workload. The team starts falling behind on tasks and you have to report the delays to the client.

Warning signs to watch out for

When you start falling behind on your schedule, it shows that your initial expectations were unrealistic. You may not have considered vacation or other projects. Or maybe you’re simply trying to accomplish too much in too little time.

what should we do

Spend more time moving from goals to routines.

Sometimes when you move from goal planning to task management, there are too many tasks to break down. It can be easy to focus on the larger, vague goals of the project instead of focusing on the fine details of each task and the amount of time your team will need to complete each one.

Instead, take the time to create an agile board or Gantt chart that clearly shows each task. Then ask yourself: Is this realistic?

Finally, think about the types of goals you set. Do you expect to achieve 100% of your goals or is it 70% success? Try to set realistic goals – that way your team won’t get bored or frustrated if they only achieve 70% of them.

Also remember, being successful 100% of the time can also mean you’re not setting ambitious enough goals.

5- Lack of project transparency

If no one knows where to find important documents or who does what, it can lead to project failure. Even if your project is well planned, a lack of clarity can cause people to stay on track and not know what to do.

How can a lack of transparency make projects fail?

Even if you started a website redesign project last week, team members will always ask you basic questions about how to log into your content management system and which SEO audit software to use.

While you’re quick to respond to these messages, a few minutes here and there can seriously slow down your day and prevent you from handling other, more complex requests.

The problem is, no one on your team knows where to find these essential details. Even though they have full access to your project board and shared files, these details are not easy to find.

Warning signs to watch out for

If your team members are constantly asking about basic information, it’s a clear sign that these details aren’t easily accessible or visible.

If some work tasks are “duplicated”, this is another sign that there is not enough transparency about the project’s workflow and who is doing what.

what should we do

Keep all your project tasks, files, code repositories, and assets in one central place like your project management tool.

For example, use a project management software that brings together everything you need to successfully run a project in one place, including:

  • Agile boards and Gantt charts for task management
  • Knowledge management and wiki to store important documents
  • Secure cloud storage for essential assets and files
  • Host code repositories to facilitate finding important lines of code
Warning signs to watch out for
Warning signs to watch out for


Project failure is often out of your control. Even if you’ve done everything right, an idea can fail once it’s in the hands of users. But this is an important part of learning and growing.

The important thing is to use failure as a lesson and an opportunity to grow. That way, the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, you can apply these lessons and increase your chances of success.

The key to project success is using the right tools and processes. When you implement a project management process and tool, you are much more likely to succeed as a team.

Check Also:

What is the stakeholder theory and what is its application in business?

User research in agile UX: How UX and agile development go hand in hand?

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