How do you make a project fail?

Studies from companies like IBM have shown that up 60% of projects in organisations fail. A staggering number, in fact it’s a wonder anything gets done at all.

However, if we analyse the reasons why these projects fail, we can see there are some common mistakes that if we were to deliberately sabotage a project then this is how you do it.

1.    Never have a reason why

Don’t think about why you are doing a project just be grateful you’ve thought of something to do. Every bright idea should be actioned upon regardless of whether it helps the organisation or not.

Strategy is for losers, action is for heroes, never think of why you want a change, the return you get on investment or whether the change itself is achievable.

2.    Ignore the past

What can history teach you anyway?

That’s done, its in the past so forget it.

Every project you have is unique so it’s a waste of time using your past experiences to guide you round the pitfalls on this one.

3.    Keep the team in the dark

People love surprises.

Just look at the joy on somebody’s face when you give them a present they were not expecting.

So why tell people about anything? It’s much better to keep them in the dark and surprise them.

4.    Once started, always finish

No project should ever review itself and nobody should ever question it’s existence once started.

Just crack on and deliver it.

Look, you took this decision over 3 years ago and obviously nothing is ever going to change in your organisation or outside that could possibly effect the project so stop wasting time reviewing it and get it done.

5.    Micromanage wherever possible

Nobody likes being left on their own to work, everybody loves to have someone watching over their shoulder the whole time directing their each and every move.

People don’t want to be responsible for their own decisions as they are fearful of making the wrong one.

6.    Action!

Don’t just sit there planning, get on with it!

Action, action, action!

Everybody knows that action creates work that creates output.

7.    Keep doing it this way

Never take an individual project context into consideration and adapt working methods to it.

The business case template is 200 pages long so it shouldn’t matter whether you’re building a new shopping centre, IT system or garden shed. The business case is 200 pages long.

Only by causing this amount of work can we maintain the high staffing levels required to move the paperwork around instead of deploying these people into more productive tasks.

Moment of reflection              

If you want to read the fuller article then please visit . It’s by no means meant as an exhaustive list and as you have been reading it you may have some other examples of project failure come to mind.

At the very top I quoted a figure of 60% failure rate on projects which would indicate quite a poor conversation rate. All is not lost though as the alternative figure to this is that projects being governed by a methodology have an 80% success rate.   

If you would like to know more about how to turn 60% failure into 80% success, then please visit us at or email

Russell Parker
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Russell Parker

Since 2006, Russell has delivered training in service and project management. He has helped dozens of managers to acquire their qualifications. He also has helped them to be successful in frameworks such as PRINCE2, Agile, ITIL. Russell has run numerous projects in the public and private sectors. He then turned his hand to training and consultancy. His core skill lies in helping people and organisations to make a positive change for real benefit.

How do you make a project fail?

by Russell Parker Time to read: 2 min