This is Why So Many IT Projects Fail: A Wrap-up

Project Managers, we have a problem.

I started writing this series of articles 52 weeks ago. I asked the following questions:

  • Why does IT have such a mediocre (read “dismal”) project delivery track record, especially given that we’re so skilled at technology and process? 
  • How can we improve our success rates? 
  • Are we focusing on the people aspects of our project delivery? 
  • Are we putting our people first?

You can link to that article here: “This is Why So Many IT Projects Fail: A People First Companion to the PMBOK.

In those 52 weeks, I provided you with a people-focused perspective on delivering projects. Each week’s articles directly correlated with the more process-focused orientation of the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2017). Each week I wrote three articles using the following pattern:

Without restating my introductory article from a year ago here, I’ll at least touch on the underlying premise. We Project Managers are skilled in technology and process. We seldom have project management failures in these two areas. That leaves one suspect area that, in my opinion, is the crux of our dismal success rate – the people aspects of project management.

As I wrap up these 52 weeks, we come full circle – back to confronting our industry’s dismal success rate.

Open Door Technology provides a great synthesis of several conclusions from the latest research of the Standish Group, an international organization that studies software development performance (Open Door Technology, 2019). I have paraphrased the salient points below and have provided a link to their blog post at the end of this article.

Every two years the Standish Group publishes a report called the CHAOS report (Comprehensive Human Appraisal for Originating Software). The report presents data from a database of over 50,000 in-depth project profiles from both the public and private sectors. Six success measurements are considered in their findings: on time, on budget, on target, on goal (client objectives met), value to the client organization, and client satisfaction.

According to the 2018 Standish CHAOS report, only 16.2% of IT projects were completed successfully, meaning they were on time, within budget, and delivered the project’s objectives. Which means, 83.8% of IT projects failed partially or completely:

  • 52.7% projects were completed; however, they were over time, over budget, and/or did not deliver all promised objectives. 
  • Therefore, 31.1% of projects completely failed. They were never completed.

However, more than the dismal statistics I found the following instructive. Successful projects shared the following top five attributes:

  • user involvement,
  • senior management engagement,
  • well-defined requirements,
  • solid project planning, and
  • realistic expectations on the part of the client organization.

Note that the of theses five success attributes, four are people-focused, while only one (project planning) is process-related.

What about the top five attributes of failed or partially failed projects? These were:

  • lack of user input,
  • incomplete or generic requirements,
  • continuously changing requirements (scope),
  • lack of senior management support and engagement, and
  • technical incompetence.

Note that the of the five failure attributes, four again are people-focused, and one (technical incompetence) is technology-related.

The report included five additional attributes of failed or partially failed projects:

  • insufficient resources,
  • unrealistic expectations,
  • lack of planning,
  • lack of IT management, and
  • the project was no longer required.

Again, four are people-focused, and one (lack of planning) is process-related.

What does this information tell us? It tells us we have a lot of work to do.


Project Management Institute. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newton Square, PA: PMI Publications, 2017, Print.

Open Door Technology. (2019, February 20). The Standish Group report 83.9% of IT projects partially or completely fail. Blog.

*** Photo by Thomas Bethge /

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