Seven Deadly Sins of Project Management

Research by the Standish Group in 1995 showed a staggering 31.1% of Information Technology (IT) projects are cancelled before they ever get completed. In 2004 this had improved to 18%.

Further results indicated 52.7% of projects cost over 189% of their original estimates. By 2004, this number had improved to an unsatisfactory 56% overrun on average with an average 84% time overrun.

Only 16.2% of software projects in 1995 were completed on-time and on-budget. In the larger companies, only 9% of projects come in on-time and on-budget. In 1995, only 42% of the originally proposed features and functions were implemented in projects completed by the largest American companies.

Why are projects run so poorly with such an obvious low return on investment? Here are the seven deadly sins of project management, any one of which derails intended project inputs and outcomes.


The project plan is not clear. The goal lacks clarity because it uses labels to describe what needs to be achieved, such as “Best Practice” or “Operational Excellence”. Project goals are not Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-based. Planning is adhoc, with moving or non-existent milestones. Project change management is poor. Communication is poor.

In summary, the blind lead the blind.


A lack of urgency to plan, communicate and execute pervades the project. People involved in the project do not understand, believe and accept the project. They, therefore, do not really care, which in turn impacts their desire and ability to plan and implement. Lethargy often sets in at the top when the so called “sponsors” of the project do not really believe in the project. They convey their “belief” through their words and their disbelief through their actions, body language and tone and pace of voice.


Projects which lack deliberate thought and meander from milestone to milestone are common in small business and large businesses. People leading the project, who have little, if any, experience leading projects is the ever present factor. Insentience is the most common failure mode of projects and project teams in businesses. In addition to poor planning these projects lack an executable communication plan and little, if anything, is known about them outside of the project team. Engagement levels throughout the organisation are low. Projects fail before they begin.


Projects milestones are not considered with the seriousness that should accrue to a milestone. Milestones are intrinsic to the successful outcome of the project and yet they are allowed to pass by unfulfilled with impunity. Missing a milestone should be big news to the project team and the wider stakeholders. The high probability and high consequence of the risks associated with missing a milestone are either not appreciated or not treated with the gravity that should accrue to them. No-one is disciplined for missing a milestone as senior management tolerate failure.


Projects are designed without any attention paid to risk. Risk is a double edged sword. Projects which do not address positive risks suffer from a lack of inventive solutions to the problem the project is designed to solve. They begin the project with a set solution in mind usually sacrificing productivity or effectiveness as a result. Projects which do not address negative risks suffer from a lack of contingencies to implement quickly should the negative risk event occur. The lack of “ready to execute” contingencies reduces productivity and usually assures that milestones are missed.


Project managers exercise no authority; either because no authority was provided to them or because they fail to exercise their given authority. Project managers must act to maintain project integrity. They must exercise authority, in particular to guard against scope creep, budget blow outs and non-attainment of milestones. Steering committees must steer projects ensuring appropriate resources are allocated by department heads and that a sense of urgency is maintained across the organisation to hit milestones.


Project scope grows after the plan is set with its identified risks and contingencies. The new risks are not thought through and new contingencies are not identified. Pressure on resources and budget availability increases the risk of missing milestones. In some cases the scope changes so much that the original goal becomes untenable. Calculating the return on investment for the project becomes impossible.

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