Why Do Projects Fail?

Facts and Figures

A number of studies have been completed that look into the success / failure rates of projects.  These studies indicate that serious problems exist across a broad cross-section of industries.  Below is a summary of some recent reports.


Source : McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the University of Oxford
Type of survey : Study on large scale IT Projects
Date : 2012

A study of 5,400 large scale IT projects (projects with initial budgets greater than $15M) finds that the well known problems with IT Project Management are persisting. Among the key findings quoted from the report:

    1. 17 percent of large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company
    2. On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted

Source material – Delivering large-scale IT projects on time, on budget, and on value


Source : Geneca
Type of survey : Interview based study of software projects
Date : 2010 – 2011

Interviews with 600 people closely involved in software development projects finds that even at the start of a project many people expect their projects to fail!

  1. “Fuzzy business objectives, out-of-sync stakeholders, and excessive rework” mean that 75% of project participants lack confidence that their projects will succeed.
  2. A truly stunning 78% of respondents reported that the “Business is usually or always out of sync with project requirements”

Source material – Why a Majority of Business and IT Teams Anticipate Their Software Development Projects Will Fail


Source : KPMG (New Zealand)
Type of survey : Survey of 100 businesses across a broad cross section of industries
Date : Dec 2010

KPMG survey of Project Management practices in New Zealand finds some truly startling results;

  1. Survey shows an incredible 70% of organizations have suffered at least one project failure in the prior 12 months!
  2. 50% of respondents also indicated that their project failed to consistently achieve what they set out to achieve!

Reference article – Most Business Experience Project Failure

Source material – KPMG Project Management Survey 2010


Source : IBM
Type of survey : Survey of 1,500 change management executives
Date : Oct 2008

IBM survey in the success / failure rates of “change” projects finds;

  1. Only 40% of projects met schedule, budget and quality goals
  2. Best organizations are 10 times more successful than worst organizations
  3. Biggest barriers to success listed as people factors: Changing mindsets and attitudes – 58%. Corporate culture – 49%.  Lack of senior management support – 32%.
  4. Underestimation of complexity listed as a factor in 35% of projects

For source data read – Making change work


Source : Logica Management Consulting
Type of survey : Survey of 380 senior executives in western Europe
Date : Oct 2008

Logica Management Consulting and the Economist Intelligence Unit studied success rates for business process change projects (most of which have significant technology components). A cross section of different industries were included in the survey.

Findings showed;

  1. 35% of organizations abandoned a major project in the last 3 years
  2. 37% of business process change projects fail to deliver benefits

For source data read – Failing business process change projects substantially impact financial performance of UK business


Source : United States Government Accountability Office
Type of survey : Review of federally funded technology projects
Date : 31 Jul 2008

Study finds 413 of 840 (49%) federally funded IT projects are either poorly planned, poorly performing or both.

Project Railhead provides a good example of the types of problems involved.  In the Railhead case the complete $500M investment is in jeopardy.

For source data read – GAO-08-1051T


Source : Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA)
Scope :
400 respondents
Date : May 2008

Key findings

  • 43% of organizations have suffered a recent project failure
  • At a typical enterprise 20% of technology investments are not fully realized

Source – IT Magazine


Source : Guardian Newspaper (UK)
Scope : Investigation into government waste in the UK since year 2000
Date : 5 Jan 2008

  1. Study of government projects reveals $4billion in wasted efforts as a result of failed projects
  2. “Only 30% of our projects and programs are successful” -Joe Harley, programme and systems delivery officer at the Department for Work and Pensions

For source article read – Not fit for purpose


Source : Dr Dobbs Journal
Scope : 586 respondents to email survey (Dr Dobbs subscriber list)
Date : Aug 2007 and Oct 2011

  1. 70% of respondents had been involved in a project they knew would fail right from the start
  2. Success rates for Agile projects 72%, success rate for traditional approaches 63%

For source data read – IT Project Success Rates Survey (2007 version).  Updated version 2011 – 2011 Project Success Rates


Source : KPMG – Global IT Project Management Survey
Scope : Survey of 600 organizations globally
Date : 2005

  1. In just a 12 month period 49% of organizations had suffered a recent project failure
  2. In the same period only 2% of organizations reported that all of their projects achieved the desired benefits
  3. 86% of organizations reported a shortfall of at least 25% of targetted benefits across their portfolio of projects
  4. Many organizations fail to measure benefits so they are unaware of their true status in terms of benefits realization

For source data read – Global IT Project Management Survey