Skip to content

Let's call time on old arguments (and mistakes)

Added to your CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Only APM members have access to CPD features Become a member Already added to CPD log

View or edit this activity in your CPD log.

Go to My CPD
Added to your Saved Content Go to my Saved Content

There are two debates going around the project management discussion sites at the moment that I find frustrating.

The first is the hackneyed old survey that simply asks “what are the reasons for project failure?” 

The second is the debate about whether project management is a profession or not.

There may seem to be little connection between these two but I think they are closely related.

People have been doing surveys on why projects fail for at least 40 years. The results never change.

In fact if you go back to the ‘post-project reviews’ of the Parthenon in Rome, I would suggest they haven’t changed in the best part of 2,000 years.

These surveys inevitably come up with lists of symptoms rather than root causes. While I don’t have space to explain in detail, I believe the root causes often relate to broader social aspects of the project context. We’ve known why projects fail for years. The big question is: “Why do so many people carry on doing the same old thing and expecting a different result?”

And that brings me to professionalism. The ‘project management is not a profession’ lobby mainly use the argument to oppose the award of a Royal Charter. They believe it means that project managers will have to be licenced by the APM and regularly sued if the project fails. No matter how often you tell them that isn’t true they refuse to believe it.

You don’t have to be a ‘licenced Professional’ to act professionally. The Royal Charter is about advancing the practice of project management, and that applies to all those involved in projects, not just the managers.

The Charter would be one of many things that will help achieve the social change we need to stop repeating old mistakes.'

Adrian Dooley is the creator of  – a free, community driven framework for P3 management.

This article was originally published in the June 2014 issue of Project magazine.


Join the conversation!

Log in to post a comment, or create an account if you don't have one already.

  1. David Bewick
    David Bewick 02 July 2014, 07:34 PM

    Two main reasons why projects fail:1) poor executive sponsorship which means the project is doomed from the start2) poor requirements gathering which means at the end of the project a stakeholder will say "this isn't what I asked for"

  2. Patrick Weaver
    Patrick Weaver 27 June 2014, 12:13 PM

    Most projects that fail are set up to fail by the executive management within the organisation. Whether this is deliberate or caused by ignorance is debatable but well over 75% of the causes of failure are created before the PM is appointed.  For more on this see:

  3. Adrian Dooley
    Adrian Dooley 25 June 2014, 08:58 PM

    Michelle - It would take an essay (or two) to answer your question but I'll try and set out a few succinct points.- The 'single project manager' to whom you refer doesn't need to change the world. They only need to manage their project better.- Ideally, an organisation would make it easy and 'mandatory' for project managers to demonstrate that they have reviewed lessons learned before passing a gate in the life cycle- Many lessons learned only tell you the same things as basic training courses, so why do people not implement these straightforward common sense techniques? I liken it to losing weight. It's simple but not easy. I know very simply that I need to eat less and move more to lose weight, but that knowledge doesn't make it any easier to resist pizza and beer while sat watching the footie.- It maybe simplistic but we need to have the will power and professional attitude that means we do the boring, time consuming (bureaucratic?) stuff and resist the short cuts and pressure from above to 'just get on with it'.- this discipline is not just required by project managers. Sponsors, stakeholders, senior managers etc. all need to understand that a project can't deliver everything they want by next week at minimal cost. Everyone needs to have a professional attitude towards projects and I believe the Royal Charter is one thing that will help create a broader professional culture.Thanks for your comment - Adrian

  4. Michelle Symonds
    Michelle Symonds 23 June 2014, 03:22 PM

    I'd be interested to know what sort of social change, within a business context, you think could really be effective in preventing the repeat of the same old mistakes on projects.Isn't part of why projects fail that we actually don't act on the "lessons learned" from previous projects often because it is not feasible for a single project manager to bring about the type of change required to make a difference?