Your project failed, what now?



By Stephanie Bailey Brown, PMP

Maryland, USA


Projects fail for many reasons. This paper will focus on how to use project failure as valuable lessons learned to improve future project work. There are many lessons to obtain when a project fails. A critical step is to review the time spent planning the project work. Once the planning review is complete, collect and document the lessons, focus on improving communication and learn from your mistakes. This work will be useful to course correct future projects.


The Project Management Institute (PMI) projects that employers will need 88 million individuals in project management-oriented roles by 2027, leading to an estimated 2.2 million new project management jobs (Harris, 2021). The economy is becoming more project oriented, with industries such as manufacturing, construction, and finance are now relying on project management principles to keep processes on track and ensure stakeholders work together cohesively.

Additionally, disruptions such as the COVID-19 pandemic have led to an even greater and more immediate need for the skill set of project managers to drive change and innovation in the organizations they serve. In other words, companies are investing in ways to manage change and depend on project managers to lead projects focused on change strategies. However, many of these projects fail. According to TeamStage, 70% of all projects fail, and 42% of companies don’t understand the need or importance of project management (TeamStage, 2021). So why do projects fail? This paper will focus on several key reasons why projects fail, and successful tactics to assist with managing project failure.


There are many potential causes of project failure. These could include a lack of or a poorly defined project charter, poor resource planning, unclear goals and objectives, lack of project visibility, communication gaps, scope creep and unrealistic expectations.

Projects can have high failure rates, and there is even some debate about projects and their value in the organization. Is it a needed function? Should it be outsourced? Our view is that projects hold the key to an organization’s productive future and done poorly can lead to the failure of a business. Done well, projects can give a firm a significant competitive advantage (Discenza & Forman, 2007). The goal of project management is to produce a successful product or service. Often this goal is hindered by the errors of omission as well as commission by management, project managers, team members and others associated with the projects.

Projects most commonly fail because there is a lack of attention and efforts applied to seven performance factors:

Focus on business value, not technical detail. This involves establishing a clear link between the project and the organizations key strategic practices. The project plan needs to cover the planned delivery, the business change required and the means of benefits realization.

Establish clear accountability for measured results. There must be clear view of the interdependencies between the projects, the benefits, and the criteria against which success will be judged. It is necessary to establish a stable requirement baseline before any other work goes forward. Requirements may continue to creep. In all projects there will be some degree of “learning what the requirements really are” while building the project product.

Have consistent processes for managing unambiguous checkpoints. Successful large projects typically have software measurement programs for capturing productivity and quality historical data that can be sued to compare it against similar projects to judge the validity of schedules, costs, quality, and other project related factors. The lack of effective quality centered mechanisms can be a major contributor to both cost and schedule overruns.

Have a consistent methodology for planning and executing projects. There should be a detailed plan developed before any release date of a project is announced. Inadequate planning is one of the major reasons why projects spin out of control…


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally presented at the 9th Annual University of Maryland PM Symposium in May 2022.  It is republished here with the permission of the author and conference organizers.

How to cite this paper: Brown, S. B. (2022). Your project failed, what now? presented at the 9th Annual University of Maryland Project Management Symposium, College Park, Maryland, USA in May 2022; republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VII, July.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/pmwj119-Jul2022-Brown-your-project-failed-what-now.pdf

About the Author

Stephanie Bailey Brown

Maryland, USA


Stephanie Brown is the Executive Vice President, Chief Performance Officer at So Others Might Eat (SOME) where she leads the Continuing Quality Improvement Department. Stephanie specializes in collecting information and transforming information to data to drive business decisions. Stephanie is an enthusiastic servant leader, who builds and leads high performing teams. Stephanie believes that learning is a continual process that should never end and laughing is truly the best medicine. Stephanie uses her project management skills to mentor young professionals, and volunteer for human service organizations. Stephanie is a Project Management Professional (PMP) and has earned advanced degrees in Social Work, Diversity and Inclusion and Project Management. She has over 25 years’ experience with social service, healthcare, and non-profit agencies.

Stephanie can be contacted at sbrown@some.org