Posted by: Gilad Lev-Shamur | January 18, 2010

Why projects fail? Start with your management commitment

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Recently I read few posts describing the reasons for projects failure. Most of them mentioned the same elements: bad communication, lack of risk management, unskilled project managers and so on. While I agree with most of  them, one post , written by Kareem Shaker – There are too many Projects and few Project Managers   – made me think that we might emphasize the least important reasons. 

In his post Kareem stated that: “I personally believe that the project manager himself can be the no. 1 reason for a project failure”. I must say that in first glance this statement look like something I could live with. But when I analyze the different projects environments and scenarios, I realize that we should invest more thinking before we jump into conclusions.

Before we continue, I must say that I do not try to reduce the project manager responsibility. Most of the things Kareem mentions are correct: you find unskilled people at the project management profession; PMs do not apply standards and so on. But before we asked why this happen, I think that we should do some digging work in his conclusion (that we have few good  project managers ) to reach deeper levels.

As in every investigation we do, we should search for the root cause for specific findings. The major finding is that  many failed projects. When we stared asked our self why, we could go in two directions, up and down. Down to the project manager, and up to the senior management. I claim that going up, trying to find explanation for projects failure in the senior management behavior, will supply us the root cause for both directions.

In his post- Eight Causes of Project Failure – , Neil Ryder presents a report which show few statistics about project failure (awful, as we all know) and describe few contributed factors for projects failure, among them:

  • “Lack of clear link between the project and the organization’s key strategic priorities, including agreed measures of success.”
  • “Lack of clear senior management ownership and leadership.”

As I see it, when a project fail, the senior management (whether it is the PMO leader, projects  group manager and so on) should first ask herself: did I appointed the right project manager to this job? Did I gave the appropriate support to the project manager? Was I involved and monitored the project progress, or did I pop up when things started to mess?

We should understand that project mangers do not come from nowhere, and although they need to have leadership and communication capabilities they do need support.

I have seen in the past years few project managers which failed (big time) in critical projects. Without knowing the all story, you might assume it was their own failure. But if you knew that:

  • They did not have local manager who open doors for them, smooth the area while closing problematic issue with customer’s high level management.
  • Their managers did not actually understood the business importance of their project and due to that did not supply to them the needed resources.
  • The PMs need to follow  some bureaucratic procedures without someone helping them to overcome this (this is equal to having the wrong projects organization structure –PMO: centralized or not?).
  • Their managers appointed them because they were good technical guys or because no one else was available or the management did not fully understand why this role is important.

You would probably ask their managers few questions.

As I said, project managers are responsible for their project.  This is a fact. They should not blame other people if they did not do their work properly. But without educate the senior managers why project management methodologies are important, without understanding that this is a profession and not just a title, they will appointed the wrong people to these jobs.

Eventually, someone needs to offer them the job. It is all about management commitment. This is the root cause.

Good Luck!



This could be a topic for another post, but I do not think that the functional manager role is easier. Working in mixed department – operation and projects- I can assure you that you have some benefits as project manager, being able to forget your project after the handover ceremony. But we will discuss  this in the future.

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  1. Yes, PM coordinates the whole process, his role is really huge

  2. Hi Alena,

    Thank you for your response.

    The PM role is huge and sometimes I do not realize how we could control these complicated projects. Management commitment will help the PM to take hard decisions, and improve his control in the organization by building the right connections and open doors.

    This will make his life little bit easier.

    All of this, as I said, does not mean everyone could be good PM.


  3. I’m currently working Adept Management and our approach towards PM is Integrated Design Planning. We believe that lack of coordination in the design is the result of delayed and over budgeted projects. In response to this issue the company had developed a whole new process called the Adept Methodology which so far has proven to be success. Companies such as Kier Group, Skanska, Bovis have implemented in their projects and it is yield positive results.
    Visit the following link, its a presentation on this new technique. Hope this answers the question.

  4. Hi Yousaf,
    Thank for your response.
    I totally agree with you that the problems during design phase (coordination, professional problems and so on) cause to the majority of the problems in projects.
    I have visited you site and download the trial version of your software. From first look it seems very promising.


  5. Hello Gilad

    Your comments are welcome. I look forward to your comments and suggestions!



  6. […] Lev-Shamur presents Why projects fail? Start with your management commitment posted at The Project Management’s Thinker. This is an interesting take on the perennial […]

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