5 Reasons Project Plans Fail and How to Avoid Them

why projects fail

The project plan is what gets the project out of the gate and hopefully starts out in the right direction with a team that is dedicated to the same goals and methodology and outcome for the project. It is a given that everyone experiences project failures to some degree through their project management careers. It’s interesting when they immediately try to blame a “too short” delivery timeline or a budget that was “utterly impossible” to meet. Yes, those things happen all the time. But whose fault is it? Management for forcing an unrealistic budget on you from the start? The customer for demanding a delivery timeline that you know is not possible to meet? There are some situations where there is no room to budge on those items and you move forward…just thinking we’ll start now and ask for forgiveness later when the inevitable happens. But the onus is really on the project manager and team to call attention to the impossibles at the beginning of the project. 

Let’s consider a list of 5 key reasons project plans fail – starting with the unrealistic timeline concept – and also consider how these failure pain points might be avoided.

1. The complicated project plan is too…complex

In organizations running multiple projects, they tend to contain projects that last for a long time (months, if not years), and involve many cross-functional teams. Over time, many things involving the project will change along the way; its priority, the resources available, the budget, the organization’s business goals, and so on. But one thing that you can keep consistent is the tool that you use to keep track of it all. Make it simple! Use a solution that contains all of the data in one place and can reflect whatever information you seek to know instantly in a clear and visual fashion so that you can always be in control. Proggio is one example of a solution many global leaders choose exactly for this reason. Find out why here.

2. Not enough planning time

Planning is a key ingredient in the life of a project. Planning enough and planning well enough is critical to a project’s success. No one can argue against that fact. How much planning time is really necessary? While that will vary based on several factors – how familiar the project manager and team are with the industry, customer, and technology, as well as how experienced the project players are in general, a general rule of thumb is often that about 10-15% of the project timeline should be assigned to various project planning tasks. There is no hard and fast answer other than “enough time for planning it right.” Speaker and author Tony Robbins likes to repeat the phrase that “most people over-estimate what they can accomplish in a year and under-estimate what they can accomplish in a decade”.

3. Not enough room for risk assessment

Now on to the next pain factor – risks. Too many project managers and teams either completely overlook risks during the project planning process hoping for the best… or they conclude that good project planning and requirements documentation automatically cover the risk factor. Not true. Look at most government contracts. They will require a disaster recovery plan and often a dog and pony show of how to be up and running elsewhere with whatever processing is happening should the worst-case scenario be realized. It’s not an insignificant dollar factor to plan this and actually prove it annually – which is often the case – but it is usually a required proof of concept for most data-sensitive public sector tech projects. This is the extreme side of risk planning, but you get the picture. Don’t omit it – plan for it or you will find yourself knee-deep in it wondering how you got there with no quick plan to mitigate it or to avoid it next time. It’s better to spend more time on planning for risks and less time documenting the at the end of the project as lessons learned. Opportunity missed.

4. Not enough clarity

Good, complete, complex, and well-documented requirements are the lifeblood of any project. Consider tech projects as they become the basis for building test cases as user acceptance testing (UAT) by the customer comes up late in the project prior to acceptance. Without good requirements to draw the project scope line from and perform UAT against you can never know for sure that the project end product will appropriately meet the needs of the customer subject matter experts (SMEs) and end-user base. You can never be sure of success. So, requirements – well documented and complete – are the lifeblood of the project.

5. Poorly managed customers

One might think that a customer who isn’t participating or very involved is a good thing. It is not. It is a cause for concern as customer involvement is necessary throughout the project to help keep it on track and ensure that they still have the same end vision and agree that everyone is on the same page. The customer should be in attendance on at least weekly status meetings and should have responsibility for some tasks along the way – assigned by the project manager – to ensure they remain involved and are accountable for some of the project’s forward progress. They are going to be needed for deliverable acceptance along the way and for some key decision-making. Schedule sign-offs and customer tasks into the plan so they can see and accept their accountability throughout the project lifecycle.


The list of project plan failure reasons and cures could go on and on. It is often very dependent on the industry, the technology, the team, customer needs and wishes, and sometimes reasons that are not even within the control of the project manager or any of the project stakeholders. Here we have listed some common issues that can arise on any project of any type and how to consider and avoid them.

 Want to gain control of your project portfolio?