University of Missouri-St.Louis MIS 6840 Term Paper

The Project Success and Failure

Sisi Yang


Nowadays, business organizations are making projects all the time to create values, serve customers, achieve goals, and grow their businesses. Project environments are various; it always creates the complexity and uncertainty that may hard to identify. However, with the IT technology being widely applied and quickly expanding, how to make the project a success is always a big concern for every organization. Therefore, more and more researchers, analysts, and leaders are realizing the importance of this hot topic.

After reviewing research journals and website information, based on the knowledge I have learned, this paper will focus on project success and failure. And discuss and identify some factors, which will cause such happen. It will also provide several methods related to how to achieve the project success. Some of the key points the project managers and stakeholders should pay attention to will be listed as well.

Project Success

Project success is usually defined at the end of a stage. It has many ways to be identified, such as positive feedback, receiving high satisfaction rates from customers, on target project budget, matching the project timeline without delay, etc (Sorensen, 2013). Project success is important to various business organizations. Different projects for various organizations may also have their own measurements.  Sometimes, better understanding the success and failure from past experiences and even from other organizations will be very helpful. Because organizations may be able to combine and adapt to the lessons they have learned from the current project, it may bring an effective way to help the team avoid similar issues happening, allowing them to reach a better result efficiently. Even in the same project, the way to measure success may differ based on different interest views.

As Cooke indicated in the International Journal of Project management (2002), since 1960s, the project management researchers keep putting huge efforts on discovering the precise factors that results in project success. The results turned out not so clear. Over decades, it is still not easy to easy to figure out the exact factors that cause the project success. But more and more organizations are realizing the importance of finding out the key affecting factors, so lots of papers and researches are associated with this topic.

Within different organizations, they may have different conditions, so the affecting factors associated to success and failure may vary. The table below reports the contingency coefficients and related significance levels between project success factors and organizational background variables, founded by Hyvari (2006). The subcontractor and organization type shows tight connections with the contingency coefficient as 0.637.  Also, based on the research, there is no significant relationship between the project type and success/failure factors (Hyvari, I., 2006).

The contingency coefficients and related significance levels between project success factors and organizational background variables (Hyvari, 2006).

The study “A framework for project success” discussed several critical success factors based on the past case analysis (Allen, Alleyne, Farmer, McRae, & Turner, 2014). The first affecting factor is external influence.  The external influence includes organizational influence (such as leadership, organization culture, etc) and organizational structure, which related to the degree of authority and influence  (such as Functional structures, projectized organizations, matrix structures) (Allen, Alleyne, Farmer, McRae, & Turner, 2014). The project manager is the second affecting factor, which includes the stakeholder partnership (relationship between project manager and stakeholder), lessons learned, and team building (Allen, Alleyne, Farmer, McRae, & Turner, 2014). Other critical success factors are scope, schedule, and budget.

How To Achieve Project Success

The role of project managers and stakeholders
As project managers and stakeholders, they are taking more responsibility for determining each project outcome. At the project manager's position, leaders should be able to have a big picture of the entire project, also be knowledgeable to the priorities of the process they are making. Maintaining a harmonious relationship with key stakeholders, reducing the micromanaging from leaders, being able to select correct tools, continually improving the exporter knowledge through education, and always being prepared and do your homework are five good suggestions presented by the article "Five Secrets to Project Management Success"(2015). It's important to have a good relationship and communication, be well-prepared, select appropriate techniques and receive relevant education to keep knowledge updated for making projects. With precise planning, straightforward goals, explicit assignments, and effective communication, managers who always keep looking forward are able to increase the chance to solve the hardest issue and deal with even more challenging projects (Gulla, 2012). A successful project often comes from strong leadership from the management instead of micromanaging. It requires exceptional skill, rich experience and dedication, as well as inspiration to lead the team to success.

Relationship maintain
Relationships need to be maintained carefully when working on each project. The first concern is the relationship between developers and clients. It should be a good working relationship with the same goals and trust instead of competing and confrontation. The relationship between sales and technical staff is the second concern for the project manager. The staff needs to avoid promising the customer too much from only one side, and should work together. The third relationship is between the project managers and developers. The relationship is supposed to be one of solidarity, and they face difficulty together. Trying to eliminate the mandatory relationships, which are limited by hierarchy, levels, rules and regulations, forces developers to accept the project manager's leadership.

Setting Start Point
For each product or project to be launched, there are usually five stages: demand, design, development, test, and release. These stages are very important and need to be considered carefully. Making a correct decision on when to start a project is also important for each organization. Setting a starting point will help for further planning and time management. In the journal of "Systems and Software", the authors indicate five different activities from project managers' answers related to the question "When do you consider a project started?" (Savolainen, Ahonen, & Richardson, 2015). It turned out that different organizations and different decision makers have their own understanding of setting start point, and it's not quite simple to define. The below table shows unclear start points identified from the responses, which gives an example of the confusion of identifying start point by each individual within different organizations. Based on the deeper analysis from the authors, they indicted that "Difficulty in defining when a project has started; absence of company-level instructions; and different meanings of project start" (Savolainen, Ahonen, & Richardson, 2015) are three key reasons that usually create confusion and cause organizations difficulty in setting the start point.

Responses about “when will be considered as project start?” (Savolainen, Ahonen, & Richardson, 2015)

Before staring a project, the manager needs to make accurate and effective choices. After startup, she should be able to monitor the progress of all dynamic change effectively, so that she can quickly take actions in response to some issues caused by limited market information and resources. At the start of the project process, she first needs to identify the needs of the project. To establish the objectives, project management system must first have a goal set, which is established based on meeting business requirements and targeting shareholders or stakeholders requirement, so that she can develop strategies and project plans and formulate the strategy with a series of strategic plans. Brainstorming will be helped to overcome obstacles, which can be caused by complying with the pressure to limit the production of a creative solution. It will encourage people to raise any kind of design ideas without criticism and achieve the goal through creative work.

Setting Why Statement
At the early phase of each project, putting a “why statement” and continually having a clear view during the project period will be a good ways to allow the team to reduce the occurrence of errors and increase the chance of project success (Brown, Hyer, & Ettenson, 2013). In the journal, “The Question Every Project Team Should Answer”, it listed the four key dimensions of an effective why statement for a team to consider: “ Identity: What is the problem? Location: Where do we see it? Timing: When does it occur or when did it begin? Magnitude: How big is this problem in measurable terms? What are the potential consequences for our organization? (Brown, Hyer, & Ettenson, 2013)”.   The four key components will provide a more comprehensive view for a project team to create the design question. Setting an appropriate question will help the team members better identify their project, increase team cohesion, enable them to complete the project on time, and achieve the better outcome. It can also help the team to speed up their working process and reduce the predictable issues. Otherwise, it will leave a blurred view, as well as some questionable concerns for organization and stakeholders (Brown, Hyer, & Ettenson, 2013).

Cultural Impact
The organization's culture issues are important to each project as well. Based on the evidence showed by McManus and Wood-Harper (2008), the culture issues usually exist within many organizations (such as leadership, stakeholder and risk management), and these culture issues are generally considered late into the project, not treated formally with enough documentation to follow and support due to political reasons and are rarely to be discussed during meetings. Many organizations are lacking of finding out the corresponding impact.

Based on the study "Exploring the impact of cultural values on project performance", a total of 1255 participants from eight countries (Brazil, China, Greece, Nigeria, Thailand, UAE, UK, and USA) are participated in the survey, which was designed to analyze the impact of cultural values on individuals assigned to project success/failure factors. By using multiple groups and creating structural equation modeling, the researchers found out that "the levels of importance individuals assign to both factors are dependent, not only on age and gender, but also cultural values measured as constructs based on Hofstede's individualism, masculinity, power distance and uncertainty avoidance dimensions" (Chipulu, Ojiako, Gardiner, Williams, . . . Marshall, 2014). The below two charts are the findings provided by "Exploring the impact of cultural values on project performance" research. The indicators represent the relationship difference between males and females, based on the terms "project control" and "project team management or development". According to the result, it proves that the cultural diversity of individuals will bring different values into each project for their organization.

Founded by “Exploring the impact of cultural values on project performance” (Chipulu, Ojiako, Gardiner, Williams, . . . Marshall, 2014).

Founded by “Exploring the impact of cultural values on project performance” (Chipulu, Ojiako, Gardiner, Williams, . . . Marshall, 2014)..

Change Management
Today's business environment is fast changing and not always stable. It requires the organizations to find out the effective processes, helpful tools and appropriate techniques in order to achieve successful change in related projects (Parker, Charlton, Ribeiro, & Pathak, 2013). The project management team is able to earn benefits by using change management to help their project. In the journal "Integration of project-based management and change management", the author indicated that the traditional project managers with more technical knowledge and experience are more concentrated on the task itself "rather than the human aspects and softer skills of change management" (Parker, Charlton, Ribeiro, & Pathak, 2013), which are both important to achieve project success. So based on different situations, managers should be able to select the suitable approach and view each case to improve the success of project-based interventions.

Retrospective Impact
As Nelson (2005) discussed in his journal, retrospect brings lots of potential benefits, which incudes organizational learning, continuous improvement, better estimating and scheduling, team building, and improved recognition and reflection. In practice, most organizations do not officially work on the retrospective, in most cases, most of time, retrospective plays only as a checklist role (Nelson, 2005). However, it is important for project management mangers to pay attention. By properly using retrospective ways, they will create the extra values and definitely help with the project in the project's life cycle. Retrospective analysis shows significant aspects within the project's life cycle that can be used to ensure that everything is tracked properly, and it can also to be used to figure out if anything needs to be regulated or modified before it is too late (Nelson 2005). Project managers need to recognize and pay extra attention on to this aspect and revise it when necessary.

Integrating with Systems Analysis
Systems analysis can be used for many fields, such as science, engineering, industrial, government, etc. It allows to make a balance, which that can satisfy stakeholders’ needs. System analysis can bring in objectivity into the subjective process for decision-making, which can help to carry out the decisions; it can take uncertainty to reveal the interactions and side effects; it may present some insight and indicate some unexpected outcomes based on such actions, etc. (Hordijk, 2008).

Project management and systems analysis are related, “Project management is now ready to evolve to the next level through the integration of system analysis techniques into the fundamental project management principles and process (Gregory, 2005).” Appropriate integrating of project management and systems analysis with correct techniques and following principles is needed to be considered by project leaders. By having good integration, the company is able to bring both advantages to make the project and system a success, improving efficiency.

System Thinking
Sometimes, under certain situations, applying system thinking into project management is also a good match, which will enable the project team to reduce the complexity and uncertainty. As author Kapsali (2011) proved in the research, “Systems thinking in innovation project management: A match that works” by using 12 case studies, “ Systems thinking can contribute to the planning and controlling for innovativeness, complexity and uncertainty by embedding flexibility in managerial activities. Systems thinking constructs should correspond to operational flexibility and boundary management” that should be added into routine project management.  System thinking will eliminate the one-sided or partial thinking, reducing the inconsistence, and enabling the team to have a full image of all processes, which will add extra benefits to making the project a success.

Evaluating Success
For each project, it is always important to identify and evaluate the issues and mistakes that were found, the improvements they were able to work on, as well as the achievements and successful progress they were able to make. The more lessons they clearly defined in the old cases, the more effectively they could apply them to a new project. The author Nelson (2005) listed the six retrospective criteria (divided by process or outcome related) in his journal that can be used for evaluating success: “Time, cost, and product (process-related); Use, learning, and value (outcome-related)”. Based on these criteria, the more these were taken into account for evaluating, the more clearly overall views could be provided for the entire project.

Project Failure

Determining a project’s failure can be obtained by a number of factors, such as the effectiveness, whether the deadline was met, and whether the budget was maintained. Within the period of project development, each process has the possibablity to lead to failure. The project cycle starts with the startup process , then the planning , execution and control of the project , then collecting feedback for further amendment , and getting into a new planning process ; the last part of the project can go back and fourth,  until the end of project.

Learning from mistakes and past experiences is necessary, because it will help the project management team to avoid similar issues from occurring again. Otherwise it may add extra blocks to further improvement. According to Gartner Inc., “through 2016, the accepted norm will be a 20 to 28 percent project failure rate as organizations are forced to accept increased risk to achieve desired returns” (Gartner, 2013). Gartner Inc. also mentioned that it’s important to have organizations accept failure and move on, which is called the “fail-forward-fast mindset”.

According to a case study “Managing IT project in public company”, results turned out that   “ the main reasons for IT project disruptions, failure or delays are: lack of clear vision and business plan, poor documentation before starting, during and after finishing projects, lack of clear quality assurance criteria, standards and reviews, and poor project risk management practices” based on less than a 50% average acceptable performance score (Bouras, & Bendak, 2014).  User needs change too fast and the project team is unable to grasp the changes. Wrong technical choices can cause some technical difficulties, project management errors, and users losing software control. In addition, the personnel replacement occurred, which will also affect the project process, causing failure issues.

Similarly, the reasons such as “ scope creep, resources over allocated, unsupported project culture, the accidental project, monitoring and controlling not updated” (Stewart,2012) can lead to failures. Also the “failure to align and communicate with stakeholders (building trust and sharing understanding), ineffective involvement of executive management, lack of soft skills or the ability to adapt, poor or missing methodology and tools” (Gulla, 2012) can interfere with project success. Finally, more classifications are “over specification, failure to adopt and adhere to a suitable project methodology, poor change management “(Zhu, 2012) are also the top reasons that cause project fail.

A project’s success or failure usually depends on both external factors and internal factors. To some extent, the external factors, such as cutting project budget, changing business direction and structure, and defaulting contracts etc., may be hard for a project team to reverse. Comparing to external factors, to some extent, the internal factors, such as the skill and quality of a manager may be easy to affect the project’s achieving result. The project managers do not have enough experience. In many organizations, the project manager selection criteria is based solely on technical ability, which would cause the project manager to consciously and excessively focus on technology instead of users, finally resulting in failure of the project. Some projects often fail due to the lack of support from their departments, as well as their teammates.

Lack of a full project plan is a common reason for failure within many projects, mainly in the unreasonable assumptions and wrong risk prediction. It’s necessary to set aside time to deal with some unforeseen problems, because as in any project, there will be a variety of unpredictable problems, time is usually a big concern.

The initial requirements analysis and the changing needs of the development process are the core factors of demand management. Discovering the affecting errors in the early stages, without mixing with other complex issues, makes it more possible to correct the mistakes. Also the blind pursuit of customer satisfaction, with less analysis, will result in additional functionality increases, so that the cost overruns will lead to project failure.

Inadequate testing will also cause failure. Sometimes, when the development process is beyond the specific date but does not exceed the overall schedules, managers may be likely to spend the testing time in order to make up the cost. The final testing period of the entire project will be compressed and shortened to a few days. 

Lacking effective communication is still a big issue that leads to project failure. As an article “More Than Half of All Project Budget Risk is Due to Ineffective Communications” from the Project Management Institute (2013) represents,  “ineffective communications is the primary contributor to project failure one third of the time, and had a negative impact on project success more than half the time” (Project Management Institute, 2013). Most of the time, the project team still treats it as a regular project management task, not having deep thinking of communication strategies and tools that may be used to help store and manage important information and communication (Monterroso,2013). The high performing organizations usually have twice as affective formal communications plans which shows an impact that is more than three times more valuable than that of lower performing organizations (Project Management Institute, 2013)


Project success is important to various business organizations. Sometimes, better understanding the success and failure from past experience and even from other organizations will be very helpful. Learning from the mistakes and past experiences is necessary, because it will help project management teams avoid similar issues in the future. Project managers and stakeholders playing the correct role, setting appropriate start points on time, paying attention to cultural impact and managing changes, reviewing retrospective impact and evaluating success comprehensively, applying system thinking, as well as properly integrating with systems analysis will be helpful for making a project a success.

References A

1. Allen, M., Alleyne, D., Farmer, C., McRae, A., & Turner, C. (2014). A framework for project success. Journal of Information Technology and Economic Development, 5(2), 1-17.

2. Bouras, A., & Bendak, S. (2014). Managing IT projects in public companies: A case study. Journal of Engineering, Project, and Production Management, 4(2), 74-80.

3. Brown, K. A., Hyer, N. L., & Ettenson, R. (2013). The question every project team should answer. MIT Sloan Management Review, 55(1), 49-57.

4.Cooke-Davies, T. J. (2002). The“real” success factors in projects. International Journal of Project Management 20, 185-190.

5. Chipulu, M., Ojiako, U., Gardiner, P., Williams, T., Mota, C., Maguire, S., . . . Marshall, A. (2014). Exploring the impact of cultural values on project performance. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 34(3), 364-389.

6. Gregory, M. (2005). Integrating Project Management and Systems Analysis. Conference: Project Management Australia Conference, 50, 1-5.

7.Hyvari, I. (2006). Success of projects in different organizational conditions. Project Management Journal, 37(4), 31.

8. Kapsali, M. (2011). Systems thinking in innovation project management: A match that works. International Journal of Project Management, 396-407.

9. Nelson, R. (2005). Project Retrospectives: Evaluating Project Success, Failure, and Everything in Between. MIS Quarterly Executive, 4(3), 361-372.

10. Parker, D., Charlton, J., Ribeiro, A., & Pathak, R. D. (2013). Integration of project-based management and change management. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 62(5), 534-544.

11. Savolainen, P., Ahonen, J., & Richardson, I. (2015). When did your project start? – The software supplier's perspective. Journal of Systems and Software, 32-40.

References B

1. Five Secrets to Project Management Success. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

2. Gulla, J. (2012). Seven Reasons IT Projects Fail. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

3. Gartner Says Smart Organizations Will Embrace Fast and Frequent Project Failure in Their Quest for Agility. (2013). Retrieved November 5, 2015, from

4. Hordijk, L. (2008). What is systems analysis? Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

5. McManus, J., & Wood-Harper, T. (2008). A study in project failure. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

6. Stewart, J. (2012). Top 10 Reasons Why Projects Fail. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

7. Zhu, P. (2012). IT project failure: Symptoms and reasons - Enterprise CIO Forum. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

8. Sorensen, J. (2013). 10 Ingredients for Successful Projects. Retrieved November 8, 2015, from

9. Monterroso, Y. (2013). Poor Communication Leads to Project Failure One Third of the Time. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from

10. Project Management Institute: More Than Half of All Project Budget Risk is Due to Ineffective Communications. (2013). Retrieved November 15, 2015, from