post-template-default,single,single-post,postid-18484,single-format-standard,wp-custom-logo,theme-bridge,woocommerce-no-js,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-content-sidebar-responsive,columns-4,qode-theme-ver-11.0,qode-theme-bridge,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-5.1.1,vc_responsive



Classic Mistakes

Analysis of the examples in the “Catalogue of Catastrophe” reveals the most common mistakes. Given the frequency of occurrence, these mistakes can be considered the “classic mistakes”. The following list outlines the most common themes and provides links to examples;


  1. The underestimation of complexity, cost and/or schedule
  2. Failure to establish appropriate control over requirements and/or scope
  3. Lack of communications
  4. Failure to engage stakeholders
  5. Failure to address culture change issues
  6. Lack of oversight / poor project management
  7. Poor quality workmanship
  8. Lack of risk management
  9. Failure to understand or address system performance requirements
  10. Poorly planned / managed transitions


1.The Underestimation of Complexity
In Powerpoint all projects can be made to look simple, in reality the situation is much more complex. Failure to see those complexities leads to the underestimation of schedule and budget, plus a host of other ailments. Examples:

National Health – UK
Transit Ticketing Authority – Australia
Denver airport baggage handling system (full case study) – USA
State of Wisconsin – USA
Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs – UK
Waste Management – USA

2.Failure to Establish Appropriate Control Over Requirements and/or Scope
Since mankind first started looking into the failure of technology projects, changing requirements have been a reoccurring theme. The following examples illustrate the point. Examples:

FBI Virtual Case File system – USA
Census Bureau – USA
Northern Island Rate Collection Agency – UK
Westjet – Canada

3.Lack of Communications
Communications are the oil that allows effective decisions to be made across the team. Where communications breakdown, the effective of the decisions being made can rapidly turn bad. Examples:

Department of homeland security – USA
Census Bureau – USA

4.Failure to Engage Stakeholders
Stakeholders are the people who need to provide key input to the critical decisions made in the project. Failure to engage stakeholders effectively is the fast-path to disaster. Examples:

Qantas airlines – Australia
Criminal Justice Enhancement Program – Australia

5.Failure to Address Culture Change Issues
Although technology is the focus of many projects, failure to recognize and address culture change can derail the deployment of a new system. Examples:

National Health – UK
Service Personnel and Veterans Agency – USA

6.Lack of Oversight or Poor Project Management
Delegating is easy, but unless there is an appropriate level of oversight projects can quickly go off the rails. The following examples illustrate what can happen when management’s asleep at the wheel. Examples:

FBI – Virtual Case File – USA
Department of Transport – UK
Department of Homeland Security – USA
New South Wales – Australia
University of Wisconsin – USA
Los Angeles Unified School District – USA

7.Poor Quality Implementations
Individual bugs may be fixable, but when the number of bugs is allowed to run rampant the entire project can be put in jeopardy. Examples:

Her Majesty’s Revenue Collection Agency – UK
New South Wales – Australia
Lufthansa Systems – Germany

8.Lack of Risk Management
Projects are full of uncertainties and failure to identify or manage those uncertainties appropriately can rapidly see them turn into serious problems and issues. Examples:

Census Bureau – USA

9.Failure to Address Performance Requirements
Performance requirements are one of the non-functional requirements a system needs to satisfy. Many projects fail to define their non-functional requirements (especially performance) and that failure leads to systems that are operationally unusable. Examples:

General Registry Office – UK
Junior Doctors Online Recruiting System – UK

Edinburgh Fringe Festival – UK
Centrica PLC – UK

10.Poorly Planned / Managed Transitions
The work needed to successfully transition a project from the project team to the operational environment or market place once the project is complete is an area that often gets overlooked. Failure to properly think through that transition can quickly turn what might have been a project success into chaos. Examples:

National Health – UK
British Airways Terminal 5 transition – UK

Note –  that although the mistakes outlined above represent the common problems that occur in projects, the problems can be triggered by many different processes. For more information on the triggers of project failure and the behavioral patterns behind failure try the following pages:

  1. Trigger events
  2. Behavioural patterns


Article written and researched in 2022 by Robert Goatham, Calleam Consulting and Universtiy of British Columbia Sauder School of Business – Continuing Business Studies

www.calleam.com /why-do-project-fail?