Project and Programme Failure Statistics

project failure

It has always fascinated me as to why high failure rates are tolerated in the IT industry in a way that does not happen in civil engineering and construction projects.

Only a few weeks ago I asked the directors of a well known British Company what they thought was the average annual IT project and programme failure rate for their organisation?  I was surprised at the honesty of their reply when they stated 50%, which is a terrible admission, and in fact very close to the national and global failure rates often quoted in industry wide surveys.

One of the most respected and reliable places to get information on project failure statistics is the Standish Group’s CHAOS survey, available via download or from the British Library.  The survey produces a huge amount of detailed data that takes some time to fully analyse, but here are some pertinent facts from the 2009 survey on IT projects:


So, it is pretty widely acknowledge that many projects do fail, but perhaps more interesting and important is the reasons behind these failures.  The “Project Challenged” category above is the one that most people have in mind when they think about failures, and therefore from the survey report I have collated the following table:


This table clearly shows that most project / programmes experience 50 and 100 per cent cost and time overruns and delivering half the system features expected.
So bearing this in mind what did CHAOS have to say about what makes a project a success or a failure:




In conclusion, when combining data from across the board / different types of failures, the primary reasons behind them are:

  • Insufficient board-level support
  • Weak leadership
  • Unrealistic expectations of the organisational capacity and capability
  • Insufficient focus on benefits
  • No real picture (blueprint) of the future capability
  • Poorly defined or poorly communicated vision
  • The organisation fails to change its culture
  • Insufficient engagement of stakeholders


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