Why You Need to Deal with Past Project Failures

Project Failure

Whether it was a missed target date or a deliverable that fell short of expectations, most people working in project environments have encountered some sort of failure. The PMAlliance project management consulting team has helped organizations of all sizes and levels of maturity rescue projects that were headed for failure – due to a wide range of causes – and put them back on the path to success.

Project Failure

Project failures happen. You want to avoid repeating them. You want to learn from them.

What you don’t want to do is ignore them.

Managing the aftermath of a failure can be difficult and often uncomfortable, but it’s critical that project managers approach defeats with intention and determination. This enables the team to identify and fix the root problems, and ultimately use the experience to expand everyone’s skills and knowledge.

If your failure recovery strategy has been haphazard in the past, below are some key reasons you should tackle project flops head on.

Exploring past failures empowers your team to improve. Project managers sometimes singlehandedly work to determine the causes of a project breakdown and develop a strategy to address them. If this process carried out in a vacuum, without input from others in the group, the solutions may not encompass or resolve all the factors behind the original failure. And when team members are instructed to change their workflows but aren’t given good insight into why those changes should be made, all they can do is react to their leader’s direction. Individuals who lack the opportunity to participate in the review and resolution process may not fully commit to improvement efforts. Even if they genuinely want to do better in the future, it’s likely they still won’t understand how their actions will lead to better project outcomes.

A careful evaluation of failures provides your team with a good understanding of what has gone wrong in the past, and this knowledge will help them eliminate fears that may hinder their long-term performance. If failures are swept under the rug or blown off with a string of excuses, your team members might eventually doubt the group’s ability to successfully execute future projects, particularly those that are high risk, high visibility, or more complex than usual. This could become a dangerous, self-fulfilling cycle, where additional failures heighten people’s concerns, their performance degrades due to fear and/or low morale, and this leads to more mistakes. You want to take the steps necessary to allay their concerns and allow them to focus on implementing positive changes that will avoid failures and achieve more consistent success.

Reviewing project missteps in a methodical, consistent, and open way demonstrates transparency to your stakeholders. When a project team shows sustained commitment to delivering the best results possible and engages in an authentic assessment of past performance, it builds confidence among your sponsors and executive partners. They’ll know that your intentions to achieve success are genuine and they’ll be able to see for themselves that everyone is putting in the effort to fix the issues that contributed to the failure. This transparency ensures they remain supportive of your efforts and available to assist your team as you work to resolve your challenges.

Partnering with an experienced project management consultancy as part of your failure assessment enables your team to gain a neutral perspective on the causes behind the failure. This objective insight can help break down functional silos and create a more collaborative environment, one that moves past internal politics and personal agendas so the entire team can work together as everyone takes a candid look at the situation and brainstorms effective solutions.


PMAlliance, Inc offers project management consultingproject management training and projecportfolio management services.