Why Do So Many Corporate Projects Fail?

freelance project management consultant - dead plant

If you’re among the whopping 2.5 percent of companies that successfully complete every project they start, congratulations! If you’re not, then you’ve probably wondered, at one time or another, where things are going wrong.

Though it’s little comfort, that stat—from a PricewaterhouseCoopers study—shows you’re not alone. PwC reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and ultimately found that the vast majority of corporate projects fail.

It seems that IT projects tend to suffer the most, with 43% having experienced a recent project failure, but the effects of poor project management are felt throughout virtually every industry. Harvard Business Review reports that one in six projects has an average cost overrun of 200% and an average schedule overrun of nearly 70%.

With numbers like that, it shouldn’t be surprising that project and program management consulting is among the top three requests we get at Business Talent Group. Let’s take a look at which pitfalls our clients are trying to avoid—and what a freelance project management consultant brings to the table.

Breaking down the breakdown

Though the specific reasons for project failure vary greatly, they generally fall into three categories:

1. Inadequate planning

The problem: One of the biggest missteps in project planning is failing to clearly define the project goals. When opportunities and risks are fuzzy, so is the roadmap for success. Ill-defined goals also make it difficult to accurately estimate project costs, resources, and timeline — leading to overruns.

In defining project goals, it’s critical to get buy-in from all involved stakeholders and then maintain momentum by communicating responsibilities to team members and following up regularly. Early engagement and accountability help improve the accuracy of initial estimates and overall alignment.

Unfortunately, these steps are often missed due to lack of proper training. This is particularly common at companies where subject matter experts (SMEs) are de facto project managers. Many times, SMEs lack the formal project management skills to clearly define project goals, effectively delegate responsibilities, or develop a reliable method of accountability.

How freelancers can help: An independent project management consultant can not only help facilitate strategic planning at the project or portfolio level; they can also help develop a training program to strengthen your team’s project and change management skills and improve the value of your internal resources.

2. Inflexibility

The problem: This is probably the most overlooked cause of failure, primarily because it manifests as an inability to handle common issues, such as scope change, timeline adjustments, resource scarcity, communication breakdown, inaccurate business requirements, etc.

Of the seven project performance factors that the Project Management Institute identifies as critical to project success, five directly influence flexibility:

  • Focus on business value, not technical detail. A big-picture perspective makes it easier to accommodate revised objectives.
  • Have consistent processes for managing unambiguous checkpoints. Project tracking prepares teams for potential roadblocks and opportunities.
  • Have a consistent methodology for planning and executing projects. A strong project framework promotes greater efficiency.
  • Manage and motivate people so that project efforts will experience a zone of optimal performance throughout its life. Effective delegation frees the PM to focus on strategic tasks.
  • Provide project team members with the tools and techniques they need to produce consistently successful projects. Empowered teams are resilient teams, ready to handle sudden changes.

Though two of these focus on process and methodology, it’s worth pointing out that they’re only two of seven project performance factors. When companies rely on process and procedure to manage the bulk of the work, everything has to go exactly as planned in order for the project to succeed. There’s no room for flexibility if the organization’s priorities or project objectives change (two of the most common reasons for project failure).

This is why two of the other factors focus specifically on people: Having a motivated, well-supported team allows for flexibility within a defined framework. You need both the process and the people to achieve success.

How freelancers can help: When resources are tight or project management skills lacking, a freelance project leadership consultant can provide additional support. They can help develop an appropriate project framework, define key checkpoints and create a communications plan for keeping everyone connected.

3. Insufficient resources

The problem: Many projects are doomed from day one because there simply aren’t enough of the necessary resources available to support them. In a survey by PM Solutions Research, PMOs identified two of their top challenges as:

  • A lack of time to dedicate to strategy (45 percent)
  • Inadequate resource management capability (43 percent)

When a PMO doesn’t have enough time for strategy work, they’re either juggling too many projects or have too few resources at their disposal — or, most likely, both. If a project manager can’t marshal adequate resources on their own, stakeholder support is imperative.

According to PMI’s Pulse research, 55% of project managers agree that effective communications with stakeholders is the most critical success factor in project management. As the project’s advocates within the organization, the project owner and project champion are its most valuable resources.

That’s why it’s essential for the PM to maintain contact with stakeholders throughout the project, providing regular updates on roadmaps, milestones, obstacles, and resource needs. This ensures issues are addressed proactively and with enough context to substantiate the need for additional support.

How freelancers can help: Designing and implementing a strategic communication plan can be a project in and of itself, one well-suited to the expertise of an experienced freelance program management consultant. By tailoring the plan to the project’s team and stakeholders, a freelance PM consultant can help improve plan adoption and overall effectiveness.

Guiding your next project to success

There’s no excuse for poor planning, inflexibility, or insufficient resources. These are issues that exist at the outset, and there are two paths to addressing them: stop before you start, or hire a freelance PM consultant to help address them.

When a company doesn’t have the necessary bandwidth or skill sets internally, an independent project management consultant can help bridge the gap. Our freelance consultants are experts in their fields and have served 37 percent of the Fortune 100 on significant projects, including:

  • Strategic project planning
  • Project portfolio management
  • Project assessment and business case analysis
  • Enterprise risk management
  • Communication strategy
  • International retail strategy
  • Vendor selection process development
  • Global supply chain optimization
  • Enterprise risk management
  • Leadership development

See how BTG talent have collaborated with internal teams to guide their projects to success. Or tell us how we can best support you on your next project.

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About the Author

Emily Slayton

Emily is an award-winning writer who specializes in B2B marketing. She has been helping global brands reach targeted audiences to drive sales and awareness for more than 15 years. As a small business owner herself (skeletonkeybrewery.com), she understands what it's like to source a team that can scale with sudden growth.

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