Articles Why Projects Fail: 10 Warning Signs Indicating Project Failure

Why Projects Fail: 10 Warning Signs Indicating Project Failure

Project Management Work Efficiency Leadership
Bitrix24 Team
11 min
Updated: January 17, 2024
Bitrix24 Team
Updated: January 17, 2024
Why Projects Fail: 10 Warning Signs Indicating Project Failure

Table Of Contents

Studies have shown that almost 50% of projects launched end up failing, which can be a downer, particularly if you’re about to launch one yourself. However, if you consider why a certain project was launched, especially if it’s to do with the improvement of company policies and processes to the betterment of the workforce and the common reasons why projects fail, you can certainly come out a winner. 

Projects fall apart for a great many reasons, sometimes for causes that you are unable to foresee or foretell but somewhere down the line, you will start to see warning signs indicating project failure. The key to making sure your project is a success lies heavily on being a responsible and observant project manager and catching these warning signs early on so you can make the necessary corrections. 

1. Collaborators lose interest

You’re launching a project, putting a team together, and building a plan. Everyone’s buzzing and raring to go. Halfway through the project, you notice people coming in late, missing deadlines, or not pitching in at meetings. Very little else is worse than your team losing interest in a project while you’re in the middle of it. Taking action right away should be the response.

One of the reasons why projects fail is the ​​inability to keep the team interested in the project. As a project manager, it’s important to get down to the brass tacks with each person on your team. Making the project goals as an umbrella, ask them what their goals are and bring them into the bargain, making the completion and success of the project a personal matter to them as well. If they’re investing their personal interests, such as their goals, into the project, you can count on your team to never take their eyes off the prize. 

2. Over-promising, over-budget and overworked

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting in the hours, especially if your team has found their rhythm and are giving their all to making sure the project is a success. There are also times when micromanaging is needed to ensure that deliverables are completed on time. The setting of expectations and pitching in with your capabilities and skills are all part of working on a project within a team. So, then, why do projects fail? 

Projects fail, however, when we overpromise, overdeliver and overwork ourselves and our team. You overshoot your budget, lose track of time, fall short of coming up with a comprehensive plan or assign too much to certain team members. People get tired and overwhelmed, but you can help. Keep burnout at bay and keep your team’s motivation up by closely monitoring the division of labor, manage workload and oversee the completion of tasks and projects

3. Failure to communicate properly or adequately

Communication is the key to success. Knowing your place in the team, what’s expected of you and how much time you have – all of these help keep you motivated and on track to complete all of your output on time. Being able to check in with your team from time to time also helps keep them motivated. Make it personal by doing periodic one-on-one coaching or simple touch base sessions to check on their wellbeing and where they are in terms of the required work. 

To avoid failure of a project, keep everyone in the team coordinated with everyone else, align efforts and output, and make certain that your project is on track to completion within the deadline by communicating effectively and constantly. Whether you prefer instant messaging, video calling, or voice calls, you can employ tools to guarantee that communication channels are always open. 

4. The team lacks enough experience

A project sometimes requires team members to have problem-solving skills, thinking outside of the box, and being able to think on their feet. These can be borne out of many years of working on projects, big or small. Although some junior team members or novices might want to join the project to gain some experience, you will need experts in project-handling or other well-experienced staff to help as well. 

You can tap into your company’s HR arm to be able to study employee performance and qualifications so you can properly build your project management team. Use data and analytics to correlate each potential team member’s accomplishments and skills with your project requirements, targets, and goals. Failures in project management can begin with getting the wrong people to join your team.

5. The timing is not right for the project

There are times when you see a need for change to make things better for your customers, employees, or company as a whole. Projects sometimes fail when the time is not right. It’s either that or the workforce is not ready for change, or the company is not in the position to implement such changes at the moment. 

How do you know when the time is right? You’ll begin to see and hear a growing call or demand for change. Disgruntled employees, dissatisfied customers, and under-qualified management can all be telltale signs and some of the reasons why projects fail. A project can fail due to bad timing, but carrying out a project when it’s just right can guarantee success and utmost efficacy. 

6. Not enough project planning

When you’re hankering for a project and finally get the go signal to do it, you can’t help but get caught up in all the excitement and frenetic energy that proper planning may fall by the wayside. Under-developed plans or the complete lack thereof can also sometimes be why projects fail. The collapse of a plan can be detrimental to a project, and just how much or how bad only becomes apparent in the end.

Why do projects fail? Poor planning. That’s why after getting a team together, you need to set aside a pocket of time to formulate a solid project plan. Include a timeline, budget, and task assignments, and tap in external vendors or outside help if needed. As in chess, get your pieces ready and in their places before starting to secure a victorious campaign. If you have a mentor or a higher-up that you can approach, do so. Have them go over the plan with you and assess the risks along with the rewards. This will help make your plan exceptional, effective, and easy to follow for everyone involved. 

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7. Absence of a leader figure

As the old adage says: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” This can be applied to why projects fail. If there are too many leaders at the helm, the ship may sink, so to speak, because your team will go crazy trying to figure out who to listen to and which orders to prioritize, leading to the project's failure. 

Before you get started with the work that needs to be done, establish clear roles within the team, leadership or otherwise. Now will also be a good time to assign team leaders, if necessary, especially if your project team is on a bigger scale. This makes accounting for task completions and member contributions a lot easier. Check with the rest of your team to confirm that they know who to report to and when and then you can manage on a more macro level. 

8. Poor time management

You’re neck deep in work, and then you turn around only to find your project deadline breathing down your neck. How does that happen? How does the time get away from you? 

Make sure to account for time when planning a project. Projects can fail because managers sometimes forego creating comprehensive plans before anything else. How much of it do you have? How much do you allot to checking your team’s outturn before finalizing the project results? 

Get yourself a robust and reliable project planning software to help you keep a close eye on time. Gantt charts give project managers a way to see the bigger picture as to how much time is spent or needs to be spent on a task or subtask. If you want a more agile approach to project planning, a Kanban board might be up your street. You can also opt to keep things simple with a no-fuss team calendar to make supervising productivity and time management a little easier. 

9. Resources are not updated

Let’s say your project plan is foolproof, and you have a team of hardworking individuals that you hardly ever need to supervise at all. In the middle of the project, you notice that they’re not checking in regularly or failing to deliver on their assigned tasks within the set deadline. There may also be times when they’re deviating from the established workflow and deferring the use of available resources to deliver their work. When you ask around, it becomes apparent that your templates, resource materials, and reporting tools are not updated and, therefore, not up to the task. This is included in the reasons why projects fail. 

Set up an online team drive that contains all your necessary documentation readily available. Give all of your files, tools, and materials the once over to check their accuracy, relevance, and dependability. Get your team together so you can collectively decide on which documents or files would be necessary to the project and which ones will be used regularly, making your online drive not only functional but helpful in cutting down the amount of time spent on completing each task or subtask. 

10. Overworked and overwhelmed managers and leaders

As a project manager, you’ll find that a lot of people will come to you for help on their tasks, approval for their work, and assistance with certain tools. You will also find an overwhelmed inbox and receive a barrage of notifications along with instant messages or even phone calls. Why do projects fail? It can be because of an overwhelmed manager. 

Take a deep breath and close your eyes to refocus. 

Understand that you, as the project manager, are ultimately responsible for the project failing or succeeding. Like it or not, it all requires a level of micromanaging. “If you want something done properly, do it yourself” or so they say, and this cannot be further from the truth when it comes to projects. Why projects fail can be the lack of proper checks or proper management.

If your team is big, you can divide them into sub-teams and assign team leaders to clear up bottlenecks to keep away from failure of the project. Assign approval rights to each team leader and allot coaching time so they can be sure to check in with each member of the team on a regular basis. Institute a workflow that people can look at so they know who they can approach in the future. From there, you can either join the coaching sessions as a triad, make yourself the final approver or do your own check-ins with the team from time to time. This way, you’re still visible, and people will still know that you’re accessible but not too overwhelmed with tasks that you can relinquish to someone else, steering clear of failures in project management.

Rescuing a project before it fails

If you start to notice that the project is not going according to plan or your team is falling one by one, don’t run away and hide. Why projects fail has to do with managers and leaders who buckle under pressure. If your team sees you do this, they will also lose hope and give up. Square your shoulders and prepare to get to work. Reexamine your project plan for holes, bottlenecks, and obstacles. What can you do to clear the path to get the project back to smooth sailing? Do it quick, and do it well. What are the reasons why projects fail? Identify these and tackle them right away. 

Being the project manager means you can identify mistakes and own up to them. Address issues before they arise, if you can. When it becomes clear that it’s too late, gather the team together, find out why do projects fail, and put your heads together to come up with a strategic plan for a way out. A leader is only as strong as their team and vice versa. 

A lot can go into why projects fail. A good project manager can foresee a problem before it becomes one, but a remarkable project manager is able to rescue a project from failure and secure success. With proper planning, the right tools, and qualified people in your team, you can never go wrong.

Finally, give your team something to look forward to. What’s in it for them? Once the project is done and declared a success, reward and praise your team. It doesn’t have to be big or grandiose. A pizza party is sometimes enough for a lot of people, but it’s up to you. Just ensure you let your team know they did well, and the project was a success because you had them working with you.  


What are the early warning signs of project failure?

Warning signs of project failure are sometimes really small changes in the behavior of your team, workflow, or the projection of your project’s outcome. These changes can happen out of nowhere and start out simple or small before becoming too big an issue that threatens the efficacy or survival of the project.

What are the reasons why projects fail?

It’s easier to catch the warning signs before everything actually starts falling apart. Therefore, be sure to catch these reasons why projects fail early on so you can act accordingly:

  • Collaborators lose interest
  • Over-promising, over-budget and overworked
  • Failure to communicate properly or adequately
  • The team lacks enough experience
  • The timing is not right for the project
  • Not enough project planning
  • Absence of a leader figure
  • Poor time management
  • Resources are not updated
  • Overworked and overwhelmed managers and leaders

What are the three sources of project failure?

The three sources of project failure are: 

  1. Planning - Occurring in the early stages of the project or even before it begins
  2. Operations - A collapse of the day-to-day work and collaboration among teammates
  3. Management - All about the team leadership or lack thereof and how it affects the morale and motivation

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Table of Content
Table Of Contents 1. Collaborators lose interest 2. Over-promising, over-budget and overworked 3. Failure to communicate properly or adequately 4. The team lacks enough experience 5. The timing is not right for the project 6. Not enough project planning 7. Absence of a leader figure 8. Poor time management 9. Resources are not updated 10. Overworked and overwhelmed managers and leaders Rescuing a project before it fails FAQ What are the early warning signs of project failure? What are the reasons why projects fail? What are the three sources of project failure?
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