3 Reasons Your Projects Fail

There are three simple reasons why your projects fail: fear, pride, and envy. If you want to increase your project success rate, you need to deal directly with these three emotions. When you are aware of the impact that these sentiments are having on your project and your decision making, you will have a greater chance of being able to avoid stumbling. Let’s explore further.


Fear doesn’t sabotage your project directly as you might think. Sometimes your project might fail because you are afraid of failing completely. But more often projects are sidelined because of the fear of failing to not doing enough. Often when you begin planning a project, you start with a clearly defined scope. It is clear what everyone has to do, and that you are going to deliver an awesome product. But then the fear starts to set in. What if your scope isn’t big enough? What if the impact isn’t as much as you expected? What if people ask you why you didn’t try harder to solve peripheral problems?

Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky developed Prospect Theory. This theory demonstrates that people are more afraid of losing something then they are motivated by gaining the same thing. For example, if you were to play a game where you where you had the chance of losing $10 or winning $10, most people play to avoid losing $10. The same psychology affects you once you have defined the scope of our project. When you have a limited scope, you get scared that you might lose all of your time, effort, and money that you put into the project. In order to compensate for this fear of failure, you start to add scope to the project. The project will become more ‘worth it’ if you add these three features, increase the colour palette, and add an extra app. If you include twice the elements, it alleviates your fear that your original scope might not succeed. 

If you allow the fear of missing out on the ‘extra value’ to dictate your project you will never succeed. Your projects languish because:

  • You will never come to a point where you can complete the project. You will always try to add additional value. 
  • You won’t have the time or resources to add all of the additional features that you want.

Don’t let the fear of a small failure cause you to add to the scope of your work. Even though you feel that it that will potentially offset a small loss, it is better to deliver on your original scope, and benefit and learn from it. If you need the extra features and scope that you identified, you can always open another project after the first one has succeeded and is implemented.


If you are sure that you know all of the answers, your project is headed down the road to disaster. 90% of Americans think that they are better drivers than the median. I don’t have statistics for it, but I expect that 90% of people who have started a project think that their project will finish on time and deliver amazing results. In a survey from 2017, the reported success rates of projects are pretty dismal.

  • 37% always or mostly complete projects on time
  • 35% always or mostly deliver full benefits
  • 42% always or mostly complete on budget

Read oppositely: 63% of projects are not ‘mostly completed’ on time. (And you could have a further argument that ‘mostly’ completed on time is another way of saying ‘Not completed on time.’)

Your project will fail if you assume that it will succeed. A project is something that you undertake to change the future. Since you are making a change, there is no guarantee that it will succeed. If you are producing a widget on the assembly line, you can focus on continuous improvement, and you can have a great deal of confidence that you will get the same good result over and over again. But projects are not assembly line widgets. 

Your project will fail if you let your pride in your ability, technology, or team get in the way of the fact that you are starting from failure. What you are trying to achieve doesn’t exist today. The need to create something new is why you are embarking on the project. Take the time to ask yourself the questions: ‘How can we . . . .?’ and ‘Can we do this . . . ?’ and answer yourself honestly. You will find that you are solving actual problems, not just assuming that you are destined for success because you are great.


The final reason that your projects fail is your jealousy of what you see around you. When you start a project, you will often begin to looking around and see the great things that other people have done. Another company might have a great implementation of a collaboration tool, or they might have a great shared back-office services model. I agree that it is essential that you look at what other people are doing, especially if you are working on solving a problem that someone else has solved before. Where people often go wrong is that we feel envy for features or benefits where our business has no intention of investing time or energy. 

The best personal example of this is fitness. There are a lot of people who look at other people and wish that they could be more in shape, look better, and weigh less. People are jealous of other people who are in shape. But even though you feel a spark of envy, you aren’t ready or able to put in the work. Mark Wahlberg gets up at 2:30 am and works out 2x during the day. I would love to be as fit as he is, but I don’t want his schedule.

The same feelings of envy will sabotage your projects. If you look at a Google interface and say that you need an interface that beautiful, your project could be doomed. You don’t just whip up a user-friendly interface unless you invest in it. It won’t just fall in your lap. If you are willing to invest in what you are envious of, then you might succeed. But if you think that you can do it just because others have done it, your project will fail. 

Your project will fail if you only wish you had something that someone else has. You must work on developing the capability to deliver what you think is important. Be realistic about what you can do.

It is better to get your ideas from projects that have done amazing things but to compare your results to projects that are similar or smaller in scope. Make sure that you are defining your project by what impact you are making, not by what you need to do to keep up to the Jones’ next door.

Fear, pride, and envy are the three simple reasons why your projects fail. If you deal with each of these emotions, you have taken a stride towards successfully completing your projects when others cannot. Be aware of pitfalls that these emotions bring, as you go to bring change to your world.

Written by: John van Dijk

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on January 20, 2019. See the original article here.