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Why do Projects Fail?

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Recently I participated in an online poll conducted by a colleague of mine. She posed the following “simple” question to fellow PMI chapter group members: “Why do projects fail?”. It gave an option to choose one of the answers, ranging from inexperienced project manager to not enough resources among other choices. I was one of the first to vote and then forgot about the poll for few days. Until I accidentally saw it again. I was absolutely shocked to find out that majority of respondents (62%) have chosen the following choice: Poorly defined requirements. While obviously not a scientific poll, this was sort of disturbing news to me.

It means that on majority of projects stakeholders don’t understand what the hell the project is going to deliver. In other words, requirements are misinterpreted or misunderstood and everyone has a different picture or idea of the final deliverable. I guess I am not surprised that this is happening; I am surprised at how often this is happening.

So why is this happening so often? Inadequate stakeholders? Human factor?  Inexperienced Business Analyst? Having managed many projects (and being a BA myself) the problem lies in something fundamentally different. In my opinion, the underlying problem is the project methodology adopted by an organization. In today’s “agile” world many companies opt for structured and very formal phase gate (Waterfall) approach. This approach has been proven to be inefficient, counterproductive and costly (does the word “Change Request” make your blood pressure go up?) There is just no way of knowing what you want from a system without seeing or using the system in some shape or form. I yet have to see a phase gate waterfall approach that got all requirements right from start.

So if I were to provide a reasonable explanation to the majority of people who answered the poll the way they did, they were bound for poor requirements gathering from day one. They did not have a chance under the framework they worked under. Luckily, agile is adopted by many organizations and is becoming more and more of an acceptable framework and methodology than a word that people get scared about. Just for reference, a few months ago I published an article comparing agile to waterfall. Click here to read that blog post.

What about you? What do you think is the # 1 reason on why projects fail?

And of course, I can not resist placing this famous cartoon into my post, which I think fits the topic perfectly and is a classic :)

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