Project Management Failure

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A Graduate Research Report Submitted for INSS 690 In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of Master of Science in Management Information Systems


Bowie State University Maryland in Europe March 2003

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page ABSTRACT LIST OF CHARTS AND TABLES CHAPTER I LITERATURE REVIEW Understanding Failure The Systems Failure Method II METHODOLOGY Sample Selection Procedure Limitations III PROJECT MANAGER (PM) CHALLENGES Managing People The Organizational Challenge Lack of Resources Lack of Clear Vision and Objectives Lack of Training Project Size Lack of User Involvement IV ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION V CONCLUSION RERERENCES APPENDICES A. Interview Protocol 1 1,2 2 3 3 3 4 5 5,6 7,8 9 9,10 10,11 11,12 12,13 13-15 16 17 18 18 iii iv



In the business world, “problems” can be looked as opportunities to improve the processes that contribute to business objectives. Information Systems and Technology (IS/IT) play a very important role in the daily operations of most businesses; hence, the development of such systems has become very important. There are well known models designed to guide Project Managers throughout the development and successful completion of these projects. However, many IS/IT projects continue being reported as “failures”. Studies suggest that a great deal of responsibility lies on Project Managers who need to focus on their interpersonal skills to get people to accomplish the work. Nevertheless, technical skills play a very important role in project development; learning from hard lessons can avoid repeating mistakes as well as developing tools for analyzing, predicting, and taking actions to prevent failure.


LIST OF CHARTS AND TABLES Page Chart 1 – Major Causes of Project Failure Chart 2 – General Dynamics Partial Organizational Structure Chart 3 – Success by Project Size Table 1 – Common Causes for Project Failure 6 8 12 13


CHAPTER ONE LITERATURE REVIEW Information systems projects continue to fail at an alarming rate, according to a 2001 Standish Group study; only 16% of all projects are fully successful, 84% fail. Failed IT projects cost US companies an estimated $145 Billion per year causing serious business problems. Many research studies have been conducted to determine the reasons for project management failure. Project Managers (PMs) are usually held responsible for the success or failure of their projects; therefore, most studies revolve around PMs skills. The development and design of a project requires skills that range from soft people skills to sophisticated technical skills. This study looks at the main reasons for project failure, and analyzes whether they pertain to soft or hard skills. Before discussing the reason for project failure, it is important to define “failure” in the context of project management. Understanding Failure Failure does not always have to be negative; it can be a positive experience if the procedures involved in the failure are analyzed and corrected. If one does something always right, there is no opportunity for learning. Failure gives opportunity for learning from previous mistakes; therefore, improving the decision making process. “When one does something right, one only confirms what is already known: how to do it. A mistake is an indicator of a gap in one’s knowledge. Learning takes place when a mistake is identified, its procedures are identified and it is corrected” (Ackoff 1994). The idea is to take advantage of the failure and turn the negative feeling around by analyzing what went wrong and 1

correcting it for future times. In project management, a project is considered “failure” when results don’t match initial objectives; common reasons for project failure are budget overruns and time overruns. Understanding why projects are not completed on time and/or go over budget can help correct the problem. For instance, a recent...
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