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 A comment was made the other day regarding projects and the identification of issues. In response, someone from the floor stated “there are projects that simply do not have any issues”.

Following this statement I asked myself….  Is this possible?

Projects are stated to be a temporary endeavor taken on to produce outcomes that service specified goals and objectives. Because of the temporary nature of projects there are inherent constraints that would put pressure on the project team and ultimately lead to issues. Project management engages a number of processes that interact to facilitate the delivery of project outcomes. Overtime the level of complexity within the organization’s operational, technical, financial, regulatory, compliance, business, and legal environments has increased requiring a change in the way that Issue and Risk management are performed by project teams.

While project management processes are performed an interaction occurs that creates complexity and dependency. As a result, risks and issues are formed that interfere with the successful function of these processes and the delivery of project outcomes.

According to a study by Brady and Davies (2014) “projects are complex systems consisting of interacting components arranged in a hierarchical and decomposable structure”. In their research on managing structural and dynamic complexity Brady and Davies (2014) found early research that claims projects can be viewed as systems, and thereby state that “the main challenge of delivering a complex project consisting of many interconnected component parts was not the size of the system itself, but the difficulty in establishing a set of methods or a process to coordinate and fit the parts together into a coherent whole”. From this view it would be difficult to assume that projects are issue free regardless of the size.

According to Kerzner (2017) the existence of critical issues related to project management are clear. Starting with an examination of the reasons why projects fail. Over time the reasons for project failure have changed from the tactical ineffectiveness of planning, scheduling, staffing, executing, and controlling projects to the more human aspects of project management relating to (1) failures in establishing and developing project team morale and commitment, (2) failure to develop relationships with project team members and stakeholders, (3) failure to motivate project team members, (4) ineffective problem solving and (5) policy issues.

While project failures still occur for all of these reasons there are other aspects of project management that lead to issues that impact project success. For example, technical, environmental, financial and reporting issues can come from sources internal or external to the project that need to be addressed by the project team.


Assisting the project team in the identification of common issues that lead to project failure is key to improving their odds of delivering their project successfully. The following is a list of categories written by Kerzner (2017) that produce issues that lead to project failure.

Planning/execution failures:

  • Business case deterioration
  • Business case requirements changed significantly over the life of the project
  • Technical obsolescence has occurred
  • Unrealistic technical requirements
  • Lack of clear vision
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Poor estimation (i.e. financial)
  • Unclear or unrealistic expectations
  • Assumptions are lacking or unrealistic
  • Plans are based on insufficient information
  • No systemization of the planning process
  • Planning is performed by a planning group
  • Inadequate or incomplete requirements
  • Lack of resources
  • Assigned resources lack experience or the necessary skills
  • Resources lack focus or motivation
  • Staffing requirements are not fully known
  • Constantly changing resources
  • Poor overall project planning
  • Established milestones are not measurable
  • Established milestones are too far apart
  • The environmental factors have changes causing outdated scope
  • Missed deadlines and no recovery plan
  • Budgets are exceeded and out of control
  • Lack of replanning on a regular basis
  • Lack of attention proved to the human and organization aspects of the project
  • Project estimates are best guesses and not based upon history or standards
  • Not enough time provided for estimating
  • Lack of consistency in major milestones delivery dates
  • Team members working with conflicting requirements
  • People are shuffled in and out of the project with little regard for the project schedule
  • Poor or fragmented cost control
  • Weak project and stakeholder communication
  • Poor assessment of risks and risk management
  • Wrong type of contract for project
  • Poor project management; team members possess a poor understanding of the role of the project manager, especially virtual team members
  • Technical objectives are more important than business objectives
  • Assigning critically skilled workers, including the project manager, on a part-time basis
  • Poor performance tracking metrics
  • Poor risk management practices
  • Insufficient organizational process assets

Governance/Stakeholder failures:

  • End-use stakeholders not involved throughout the project
  • Minimal or no stakeholder backing: lack of ownership
  • New executive team in place with different visions and goals
  • Constantly changing stakeholders
  • Corporate goals and/or vision not understood at the lower organizational levels
  • Unclear stakeholder requirements
  • Passive user stakeholder involvement after handoff
  • Each stakeholder uses different organizational process assets, which may be incompatible with each other
  • Weak project and stakeholder communications
  • Inability of stakeholders to come to an agreement

Political failures:

  • New elections resulting in a change of power
  • Changes in the host country’s fiscal policy, procurement policy and labor policy
  • Nationalization or unlawful seizure of project assets and/or intellectual property
  • Civil unrest resulting from a coup, acts of terrorism, kidnapping, ransom, assassinations, civil war and insurrection
  • Significant inflation rate changes resulting in unfavorable monetary conversion policies
  • Contractual failure such as license cancellation and payment failure.

Overall, the level of effort put into issue of identification, analysis, and issue resolution depending on whether on the project teams’ ability to collaborate around these areas to determine what the issues really are at any given time during the project.


Brady, T., & Davies, A. (2014). Managing structural and dynamic complexity: A tale of two projects. Project Management Journal, 45(4), 21-38. doi:10.1002/pmj.21434

Kerzner, H. (2017). Project management: A systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling (Twelfth; 12; Ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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