Why do projects fail?

If we raised such question within an environment where people do not completely agree on what a project failure is, the opinions about how a failure is determined are likely to be inconsistent each other.
As a matter of fact, the majority of the projects just fail when they go overbudget or deliver bad quality outcomes. However, it is not unusual to have projects in delay or consolidating extracosts which are still considered a success by the stakeholders.
So, let's try to go beyond the mere mention of the most common triggers of a project failure.

First of all. When can we talk about a failure for a project?

As said, there might be multiple opinions about that. In my view, a project fails when it does not meet stakeholders expectations and their interests.
The obvious expectations are those that all project management bibles invite, correctly, to respect while leading a project.
They are also usually written black on white on the project charter and on the project documentation: quality and technical requirements, budget, time constraints.
Nevertheless, sometimes the real interestes of the stakeholders maybe hidden to most of the organizational functions...and that's the challenge for the project manager: they may be different or exceed the above mentioned requirements. Organization growth, program success, market expansion are the areas to focus on in order to understand the real critical-to-success parameters.
In other words, a project may be on schedule and within budget and still be suddenly suspended or canceled, if stakeholders do not find anymore a strategic interest in keeping that live.
In contrast, a project may be in delay, over budget or not in full compliance with the predefined technical requirements and yet be successfully broght to conclusion with the full appreciation of the management.
A seasoned project manager will be able to understand that it is worth to spend efforts here and there based on the real interests which are behind his project, they will be the real drivers to leverage on to have resources and obtain the sponsorship to deliver till the last day.
Is failure an option?
We are used to hear big slogan like "failure is not an option!".
I prefer to consider a failure just as a possible scenario, more than an option or not. It  sounds just unrealistic that the stakeholders of a project would even consider the failure as a viable option to pursue (or otherwise to discard).
Either way, projects fail sometime.
Why do project fails?
For tens of reasons and it is not difficult to shed some light on the most common drivers we need to face every day.
A project may fail because of the following (including but not limited to):
  • individuals' faults, lack of experience, not trained employees, wrongdoing etc.
  • poor coordination, unresponsiveness
  • organization, including contractors, is not mature enough to bear the project.
  • unplanned and unexpect events that interfere with the execution.
  • force majeure, like a tornado which causes a stop to all the activities of the shop.
  • repeated, multiple and late changes to the requirements. Changes can be a tremendous opportunity to increase project budget, but also a solid reason to disrupt the execution even if it was diligently started.
  • underestimated complexity, including mistakes in design reviews and during internal feasibility studies.
  • funding issues, like a missing or strongly delayed payment, bankruptcy etc..

In this connection, I would encourage the readers to download the paper offered by NASA here, as they have done interesting internal studies about project management excellence and in particular about the potential drivers of a project failure. Also, guidelines to be adopted are suggested.
In this artcle, I just wanted to briefly emphasize the main triggers for a project failure . There is much more to say and I let you comment the post to share experiences and thoughts.