PRINCE2® project management, with its structured framework and tried and tested methodology has provided project managers with a global language they can all speak. It is the leading approach to project management on a global level and can be used to deliver projects of any size and complexity, in any industry. PRINCE2 can provide project managers with a step by step toolkit in which to combat project failure. But what are these common pitfalls and how does PRINCE2 save the day? Here we look at some of the most common reasons for project failure and how using PRINCE2 effectively can prevent this.

A project failure

A project is considered a failure when it has not delivered the products or benefits that are required, either because these were not laid out effectively in the first place, or because the requirements have changed but the business case has not. Generally, success factors are adherence to cost, timescales and quality specifications.

Here, we look at the most recent AXELOS benchmark report* (for which SPOCE was a key contributing partner) and highlight five of the most common reasons why, according to their survey, projects tend to fail:

1. Over ambitious timeframes – a key component of PRINCE2® is the Business Case. Here it is stated, among other things, the time with which the project is expected to be delivered. There can be many reasons why this does not happen. Lack of stakeholder understanding can be a big factor in unachievable timescales, often led by lack of distinction in the business case (or lack of business case at all). In the most recent AXELOS Benchmarking survey* 

81% of responders agreed that they are expected to deliver more projects over a shorter period of time (compared to just 65% in 2017).

The business case records the reasons, costs and expected benefit for a project. This includes the timescales which need to be agreed by all in the project before start-up. It may seem obvious but many projects are undertaken every day without ever having a solid business case.

PRINCE2®: “No PRINCE2® project starts without a Business Case. The Executive is responsible for ensuring the project aligns to strategic goals and that there is sound business rationale. Timescales are reviewed at delivery, stage and project level and any deviations from the allowable tolerance set on time is escalated up to the next level, potentially going all the way up to management board if necessary.”

Click here to download the PRINCE2® business case template

2. Changing project brief/ expectations - Projects have a start and an end but this does not mean that, due to unforeseen circumstances they do not evolve in their lifecycle. Where these changes are not managed in and communicated effectively and the business case is not updated in line with the changes, projects can fail. To help with this, PRINCE2® recommends project assurance.

PRINCE2®: “Project Assurance is essential to a PRINCE2® project. PRINCE2 Project Assurance is an ongoing audit with accurate information reported to the project board. This keeps the project properly scrutinised. You wouldn’t plan a financial merger without a financial audit. Yet, so many projects have operated without an assurance audit. The latest report from PMI suggests organisations are smartening up to this.”

3. Poor communication - Communication is essential in keeping all stakeholders in the loop. If stakeholders are kept well informed and are given a sound understanding of the value of the project, they will remain interested, when they remain interested it can provide the kudos required to ensuring that the project remains viable.

Poor communication was given as the number one reason for hampering the success of projects and programmes as stated in the most recent AXELOS benchmark survey. It was also listed as the number one skill for project success in the future (particularly 'soft' communication skills).

PRINCE2®: Communication Management Strategy – A document that describes the most suitable way which you will communicate your project outcomes to the wider team and its stakeholders. This may even differ from person to person (especially when considering business seniority).

4. Lacking the right people for the task – lack of definition in roles and responsibilities can often be a reason for project failure. People are sometimes not sure what it is that they are meant to be doing and so certain tasks go under the radar, or too many people are focusing on the same things, wasting resources.

PRINCE2®: Defined Organisation Structure: PRINCE2® defines clear roles and responsibilities. Each team member is assigned a role or roles right at the start of the project. This means that all team members understand their tasks and responsibilities and commit to them from the outset.

5. Unrealistic budgets: A key success factor in a project management is of course cost, and while value should be aspirational, it also needs to be achievable! So many projects are doomed to failure from the start by undercutting on the cost reality. In this competitive landscape organisations are at even greater risk of doing this than ever before.

87% agreed that budget and timelines are tighter as stakeholders expect more project value compared to 65% in 2017

PRINCE2®: The Business Case sets out the budget from the very beginning and larger projects will also have their own ‘change budget.’ In the PRINCE2 Business Case the project needs to be (and stay) ‘desirable, viable and achievable’ throughout the project.

In conclusion, no method can ever completely eradicate project failure but using PRINCE2® can significantly enhance your chances of success. PRojects IN a Controlled Environment, is not only the PRINCE2® acronym but the essence of the approach.  Some environments need more control than others. Levels of control can be 'tailored' to suit a very fast paced agile environment to a highly regulated one, making it an extremely effective and popular project management approach.

The PRINCE2® method isn’t a strict “how-to” guide that has to be adhered to at all times. Instead it can be tailored to the needs of your project and business. It can be used for projects of any size and type.

If you would like to talk with an advisor about how PRINCE2® training can increase your chances of project success then we’d be happy to chat with you.


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* AXELOS latest benchmark report from 2019. 

* Information correct at time of broadcast.