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Episode 134: The Top 9 Reasons Why Projects Fail

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Communication is a critical, but often overlooked, component of successful project management. This means that we project managers must strive to becoming better communicators. But you cannot do that just by reading the PMBOK® Guide. It takes years of practice!

Enter Bill Dow and Bruce Taylor. Together they have over 60 years of project management experience and so they decided to write the “Project Management Communications Bible”. It contains many tools, techniques, and best practices in the area of project communications that you need to successfully execute projects, keep your team and customers fully apprised, and deliver crucial information in a timely manner.

Together we are going to take a look at a survey that was done in 2007 to determine the "Top 9 Reasons Why Projects Fail". Go ahead... guess... what might be #1?

PM Podcast Episode 134 Transcript

Episode Transcript

Below are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

Podcast Introduction

Cornelius Fichtner: This is The Project Management Podcast. We bring project management topics to beginners and experts. Find us on the web at or send your emails to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello and welcome to episode number 134. I am Cornelius Fichtner. This is The Project Management Podcast™ for the 11th of December 2009. Nice to have you with us.

Communication is a critical but often overlooked component of successful project management. This means that we, project managers, must strive to become better communicators, but you cannot do that just by reading the PMBOK® Guide. It takes years and years of practice!

Well, enter Bill Dow and Bruce Taylor. Together, they have over 60 years of project management experience and practice and so they decided to write the “Project Management Communications Bible”. It contains many tools, techniques and best practices in the area of project communications that you need to successfully execute projects, keep your team and customers fully apprised, and deliver crucial information in a timely manner.

In our interview today, we will be looking at the top reasons for communications failure on projects. But before we get to that, I would first like to thank all those of you who have taken time to answer the 2009 Project Management Podcast listener survey. It has given me valuable insight into what it is that you, the listeners, want to hear.

For instance, most of you don’t want me to change the intro music. You would like to hear more about risk management and soft skills. The majority of you prefer if the episodes are 30 minutes maximum in duration and you want to hear book reviews and product reviews. These are just a small number of items that help me a lot in understanding how to develop the program and if you remember, last week’s episode, it was the first product review created because so many of you have asked for that.

Thank you for telling me through this survey. Everyone who participated in the survey was automatically entered into drawing for three prizes and the winners have already been notified. And as soon as I hear back from them, I will announce their names here on the program.

And now, on to our interview or rather, onto the announcement that we have a book giveaway with the interview.

Bill and Bruce are the authors of the “Project Management Communications Bible” and we are giving away two copies of that book. One copy goes to the listeners of our Premium Podcast and there is nothing that you have to do if you are a listener to that. You are automatically entered. If you are listening to the free version of the Podcast, then all you have to do is send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. In the subject line, write the word “Bible” after all this is for the “Project Management Communications Bible”. Send it to me by December 21st, 2009 and you’re good to go. That’s all it takes. And now, the interview:

Bruce Taylor is an expert in the field of project management with more than 40 years of experience. Bruce regularly provides professional assistance to top management and has accumulated impressive experience in developing project scheduling and cost control systems. He was responsible for the scheduling and resource leveling of many huge North Sea oil platforms, including Thistle and Brent B & C, each of these worth about $ 5 billion.

Bill Dow is a published author and PMP with more than 20 years in Information Technology, specializing in software development and project management. Bill has a strong passion for Project Management, Project Management Offices and Software Development Lifecycle Methodologies. Bill has a strong methodology background. He’s been very successful in every company he has worked for in ensuring that the projects methodologies match the projects while still guaranteeing the highest quality for the customer.

Enjoy the interview.

Podcast Interview

Female voice: The Project Management Podcast’s feature Interview. Today with Bill Dow and Bruce Taylor, authors of the “Project Management Communications Bible”.

Cornelius Fichtner: Hello Bruce and hello Bill and welcome to The Project Management Podcast™.

Bill Dow: Well thank you

Bruce Taylor: Yeah! It’s a pleasure to be here. This is Bruce.

Cornelius Fichtner: Glad to have you guys! Glad to have you guys! Well, we want to talk about a survey. In particular, a 2007 PMI survey which claimed that there are nine main reasons why project fail. But before we go into these nine reasons, I’d like to know a little bit more about this survey here. In particular, I’d like to you know what’s the title of the survey and who conducted it. Which one of you can speak to that?

Bill Dow: I can take it. I’m actually looking at it right now. This is Bill Dow. The title is called the “Top Nine Causes for Project failure” and it was actually conducted by the Computer Technology Industry Association in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois. It was conducted in January 2007. There was 1,007 respondents and actually PMI put it in their July 2007, PMI Network magazine.

Cornelius Fichtner: Ah, so that’s why I thought it was a PMI Survey.

Bill Dow: Yes, yeah!

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Thanks for correcting me there.

Bill Dow: Yup!

Cornelius Fichtner: What was the goal of that survey?

Bill Dow: I think the goal basically was to determine from a variety of project managers why projects fail.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Have you found out if there’s anything newer, anything since then?

Bill Dow: No, actually I think right now this is the latest. I do a continuous look on the internet and this is really the latest survey that’s out there.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Well, I also think that it doesn’t really matter whether you do it in the 80’s or the 90’s. The reasons why project failed probably are usually the same. They’re not going to be jumping all over the board back and forth anyway, right?

Bill Dow: Right.

Cornelius Fichtner: Yeah, so what is the difference then between this particular survey here and when you read in the internet, there’s always this statement that 70 percent, 80 percent, 90 percent of all IT projects fail continuously and they usually state that this is coming from the Chaos Report and the Chaos Report obviously, that’s the one that’s done by the Standish Group regularly. So what is the difference between those two?

Bill Dow: Yeah! That report was done back in 1986 and as you know a lot of things have changed since then. But there are actually a lot of similarities as well.

So for example, in the Chaos Report, they talked about incomplete project requirements and specs and this survey, The Top Nine Reasons survey, it says poor project requirements.

Another example is lack of resources in one survey. Insignificant resource planning was in another survey. So in the end, they’re pretty much similar. I think the top-nine survey is really giving you a little bit more of updated figures and updated numbers in what PMs are thinking about today.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Okay! So why then is this survey, the 2007 version, why is this in particular important to the two of you?

Bruce Taylor: I can take that one. Mainly because it verifies the reason why we wrote the book in the first place is we found the lacking in the communication portion of the knowledge areas in all projects basically and that people weren’t paying attention to it that much and it turns out that it justified and gave us a reason in a way, not exactly why we wrote the book, but it verified our assumption that communication was a very, very important part of managing a project and as it turned out from over a thousand project managers, they also think that as well.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay, cool! Well, you’ve already started with one of the reasons why project failed their communications so why don’t we jump right into the survey and we’re going to do this backwards. So we’re not going to start with the number one issue or reasons why project fails but we’re going to start with number nine, well according to this survey obviously. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to flip flop between the two of you.

Bill Dow: Sure!

Cornelius Fichtner: And we’re going to take a look at what you have to say about these and maybe you could for each one of those nine items, give a general tip, short tip on what the listeners or project managers obviously can do in order to avoid these issues on their project. So top-down or bottom-up rather. We have number nine and that is lack of control and change processes. Why don’t we start with Bill?

Bill Dow: Yup!

Cornelius Fichtner: Why don’t you, yeah.

Bill Dow: Great! Thank you! Yeah, the change control process is a major communication tool that we identified in the book. The change control process as you can imagine is critical from the beginning of the project and it really allows project managers to communicate what’s being changed on the project. So to avoid any kind of communication issues, project managers will create this project as part of their kick offs.

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Okay! So that’s also your recommendation…

Bill Dow: Yeah!

Cornelius Fichtner: …make sure that you do this as part of your kick off that you have change control processes in place as you’re launching your project? So think about this before you even start the project?

Bill Dow: Right, 100 percent! Yup!

Cornelius Fichtner: Okay! Okay! Well then, number eight, Bruce, why don’t you take that one? It’s insufficient or no risk planning. That’s an interesting one.

Bruce Taylor: Yes, it is! One of the major factors in a success or failure of any project is the difference between being reactive compared to being proactive and when team members or other stakeholders perform a risk planning or risk analysis, it provides them with a major advantage and being proactive on their projects.

Risk analysis of the project bonds the project team or any group that’s getting together and going through the risks that are possible on a project. The communication among the team members is heightened significantly when you do this and on most projects or just about every project I’ve ever worked on, when we did a risk analysis, it was amazing how the team members, almost every single team member walking away from a risk session like that commenting to the fact that they didn’t realize the project was as risky as they had originally thought. When they went through the analysis, it brought out some risks that they weren’t aware of and consequently, it turns out that most people think that after they’ve done it that the projects that they’re working on are risk prone.

Above are the first few pages of the transcript. The complete PDF transcript is available to Premium subscribers only.

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Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner
Cornelius Fichtner, PMP, CSM, is the host and the author at The Project Management Podcast. He has welcomed hundreds of guests and project management experts to the podcast and has helped over 60,0000 students prepare for their PMP® Exam. He has authored dozens of articles on and PM World 360. He speaks at conferences around the world about project management, agile methodology, PMOs, and Project Business. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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