Client Pay Portal
 project failure

5 Causes of Project Failure and How to Avoid Them

Project failure occurs often and when it does, it isn’t a pleasant experience. Revenue is lost, jobs are terminated, and if the project is mission critical, the company itself could be at stake.

A study released in 2013 by McKinsey & Company in conjunction with the University of Oxford states, “On average, large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted”. As if that isn’t bad enough, the study also finds that, “17 percent of IT projects go so bad that they can threaten the very existence of the company”.

In contrast, some projects zip along on time, under budget and produce magnificent results that exceed expectations. Project failure typically doesn’t occur because of any sole factor, but rather many factors. Let’s look at 5 key reasons for failure and what can be done to help ensure a smooth running and successful project.

Neglecting to Do Your Homework

It’s easy to get excited about a revolutionary idea for an app or website, but without enough forethought, you risk bringing an unproductive product to market. Before approaching an agency, ensure you’ve fully qualified your idea. There must be a market, a way to make money, and a strategy for accomplishing it. Nothing fails harder than a completed project with an over saturated market, no market, or any clear way to generate revenue from it.

In addition to qualifying your idea, think long-term regarding what it will take to maintain your project after it has come to fruition. Keep in mind you’ll likely need extra staff for support and a budget for ongoing changes and enhancements.

Resources for Getting Started with Market Research


Doing It on the Cheap

The old saying, “You get what you pay for” couldn’t be more poignant than with web projects. Cost can vary greatly between agencies, and some have much lower rates than others. Many companies turn to outsourcing their project for this reason. However, along with cheaper rates, outsourcing can also bring language barriers, time differences, and undesired results. Just ensure you’ve done enough background checking to vet any agency you choose to work with.

A good bit of the projects we are approached with at Bit-Wizards have previously failed because the application or website was designed or developed poorly. Reworking a failed project is always more expensive than doing it correctly the first time.

What to Look For in an Agency

  • A proven track record of completing projects on time, within budget, and that successfully completed the expected goals. Don’t simply buy into marketing, get feedback from real live customers.
  • A full service skill set to take your project through the ideation, design, and development phases to completion. Avoid working with multiple agencies to fit these pieces together because differing opinions will cause conflicts and delays.
  • A desire to work with you and not for or against you. You want relevant ideas and solutions, not lemmings or argumentative personalities that fight you throughout the process.
  • These are good to look for as well: 15 Rules for Successful IT Services Businesses

Designing By Preference

I’ve witnessed ridiculous design change requests for subtly different shades of the same color and microscopic pixel spacing changes. While a few of these changes are no problem, when a pattern emerges and the list never ceases to stop growing, expect the project to go long. In most cases, these preferences neglect to consider the end user or target audience. Holding fast to personal preference by creating a solution that you like and failing to address the user’s needs is a major ingredient for project fail. Throw in a few key stake holders all doing the same, and it’s guaranteed.

Any good relationship must be founded on trust and respect, and the relationship you build with your agency is no different. You must trust the agency has the creativity, rational, and know-how to successfully implement your idea; they are the ones who have years of design and development experience. That being said, your input is valuable and the agency you work with should recognize this. They should also recognize that you have the final say so because you are paying the bill.

Insufficient Testing

The need for User Experience (UX) testing is a critical component in ensuring project success. Users expect to be able to use your app for the first time without having to think. The app should be intuitive from the moment they open it up, otherwise they’ll simply move on to the next option.

Optimum results are achieved when an app is tested as early as possible with live users who have no prior information regarding the application. Testing early ensures any necessary changes are implemented while the project complexity is still at a minimum. Once your project is beyond the design phase and into development, modifications to address usability issues becomes increasingly more difficult and time consuming.

Recent data provided by the Nielsen Norman Group shows that smaller groups of testers are just as effective as large groups, “The best results come from testing no more than 5 users and running as many small tests as you can afford.” If planned properly, testing does not have to be a costly or time-consuming endeavor. Many startups are turning to guerrilla usability testing to obtain quick low cost feedback. New tools are making testing even more affordable by utilizing remote testing with a crowdsourcing type methodology.

Tools for Remote & Guerilla Usability Testing


Never Available

Momentum is instantly lost on a project when a critical decision needs to be made and either the client or agency is inaccessible. Oftentimes this sole decision affects the progress of multiple designers or developers. Punctuality is a must because when design and development slows, projects run late and budgets get bloated.

In addition to keeping momentum up, being available also ensures you are involved in the project which provides an accurate picture of how it is evolving over time. This guarantees that no surprises occur at the end of the project because a feature was left out or misunderstood by the agency.


This is by no means an exhaustive list of project pitfalls. However, in my experience, they are common contributors and considering them at the conception of a project will help ensure a smooth launch. I hope you find the tips a resources beneficial, please feel free to add considerations and resources by comment.




Wiz E. Wig, Mascot & Director of Magic
Wiz E. Wig

Director of Magic