Why do projects fail

Why do projects fail?

Even with the best methodologies – Design, Lean, Agile – many innovation projects fail. Whether they don’t result in any outcome, or the outcome doesn’t fit the problem, or it’s a great outcome, but no one implements it.

So why do projects fail? If they’re tried and tested processes, they should work, shouldn’t they?

We asked our community and spent some time researching to find an answer. And for the most part, it’s not about the process; it’s about the people.

6 Reasons Why Projects Fail

The Horse's Mouth

It’s important to get direct and timely input into new solutions from users. However, user engagement often comes at the wrong stage of the project, or you’re asking the wrong question, or you haven’t thought enough about what the user needs to make the solution work.

As a result, you create a perfect solution that users don’t trust or don’t trust themselves to use. Whether through fear of becoming redundant or looking foolish, or it might just seem like a waste of precious time.

Too Many Cooks

It might be that the co-creation goes overboard, and everyone has a say in everything. Perhaps team members don’t have specialist roles or deep skills. The result is settling for something that everyone thinks is okay but no one thinks it is great.

My Way Or The Highway

Organisations adopt a process that goes swimmingly for a while, but then it unravels. For example, a change in management brings a shift in thinking and practice. The new manager isn’t committed to the process and introduces a different way of working. Hence, team members are confused, the process collapses, and the project fails.

Horses For Courses

Aligning the problem with the methodology can be a challenge. Further, using the wrong process won’t deliver a good solution. And not every challenge will require an innovative solution. An existing method may be the answer.

Design Thinking works best for complex human-centred problems.
Lean is best for continuous improvement.
Agile is best for ongoing projects and projects where certain details are not known from the outset.

If a project doesn’t have clear constraints, timelines, or available resources, it’s a good candidate for an Agile approach.

A Stitch In Time

When the team isn't working well and dysfunction is ignored, the team fails to deliver. It might be that the purpose isn’t clear, or team members don’t trust each other or the organisation. There might be insufficient resources or capability. Whatever the cause, if not corrected in time, the outcome will be poor.

Unturned Stones

Projects can also fail when insufficient time and effort are invested in making connections outside the team. Additionally, finding the latest research and ideas is critical to ensure the final solution is not outdated or inappropriate. Therefore it’s essential to connect internally and reach beyond the team to seek insight.

Albert Einstein famously said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." But for today's world, we say, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results."

How to build a successful project?

Developing successful projects requires a culture where everyone feels confident in the whole process and the part they play. Use the framework below to address typical project issues through collaborative behaviours, and guide your project team to success.

Problem Solution
Build Confidence
Unclear roles, group think Autonomy: Control over work processes.
Insufficient depth in the project team Competence: Mastery to succeed
Lack of accountability, celebration, vision Sense of Progress: Understanding of purpose
Build Connectedness
Lack of diversity of opinions Belonging: Feeling valued
Poor relationships, application of processes, leadership Trust: In each other and the organisation
Minimal research, user input, stakeholder consultation Engagement: Internal and external connections

In our experience, collaboration thrives on 2 key attributes – confidence and connectedness.

If everyone in your team feels confident about their place and purpose and understands how to connect with others – face-to-face or online – collaboration will be more successful.

Hargraves collaboration model - the 6 pillars of collaboration
Shopping Cart
Scroll to Top