6 Experts Share the #1 Thing That Derails a Project


6 Experts Share the #1 Thing That Derails a Project

When you’re managing a complex project and working with different departments, external collaborators, and hundreds of details, mistakes are bound to happen. 

Smaller mishaps, like a missed deadline or misunderstanding between teams, can be resolved and usually don’t derail the entire project. 

However, there are a number of things that can stop a project in its tracks and lead to its ultimate failure. Poor communication or lack of accountability may start off as a “small mishap,” but they can end up silently killing your entire project. 

The #1 Thing That Kills a Project

To help you keep your project intact and avoid those mishaps, we asked six project management experts to share the number one thing that kills a project. 

Here’s what they had to say: 

1. “The biggest thing that derails a project is poor communication.” 

“It affects everything from the perception of success to team morale to getting action on project risks. Good communication is possible when the team trusts each other and has the tools they need to actually communicate - both in terms of technology-mediated communication and the soft skills that give them the confidence and abilities to have difficult conversations when necessary.” 

Elizabeth Harrin, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management 
Twitter: @pm4girls 



2. “It’s lack of clarity.”

“When people work on the same project but have different notions for what the goals are, what their roles are, and how or why to help each other when things go wrong, it creates the friction that makes projects fail.”

Scott Berkun, best-selling author and popular speaker on philosophy, culture, business, and more. 
Twitter: @berkun 

3. “The biggest ‘project killer’ I believe is a lack of expectation management.”

“I describe the early part of any project as the ‘journey of expectation management’ as all of the project representatives and stakeholders come to learn about each other and understand what the project truly aims to deliver. The critical message being that nobody understands everything at the start of the project. The biggest ‘project killer’ I believe is a combination of lack of expectation management at this key point accompanied with a rush to action."

Peter Taylor, The Lazy Project Manager 
Twitter: @thelazypm 


4. “The silent project killer, and in my experience the thing that kills more projects, is multitasking.”

“When people lose focus, they create defects. They don’t test everything. Everyone feels as if they are always running to catch up—and they are. The person you need to ask a question of is working on something else. Even though that person was supposed to be on your project. If you want to give your project a fighting chance, make sure your project has all the right people assigned, and that they are not trying to split their focus.”

Johanna Rothman, management consultant for software leaders. 
Twitter: @johannarothman 


5. "The single largest project killer is uncontrolled scope creep and churn."

"Changes happen and are to be expected. However as changes are identified and added to the requirements or to the backlog, they need to be prioritized based on value. Chronically saying “yes” to everything without evaluating the value of the change and the impact to other components of the project is a killer!"

Thomas Cagley, process improvement consultant and blogger.
Twitter: @TCagley


6. “The biggest thing that kills a project is not assigning roles and responsibilities.”

“If you put everyone in charge, you are putting no one in charge. Team member may assume that someone else is taking care of an important detail - and in the end the ball gets dropped and the project suffers. In your project plan, define who is going to do what and stick to it -  holding people accountable for the delivery.”

Steven Baker, oil and gas project manager.
Twitter: @StevePMP 



How to Avoid These Threats to Your Project

The key to a successful project starts with a strong foundation. Make sure you include the right people on your team and help them stay on track. There’s no point in trying to consolidate team members to just a couple people if they’ll be drowning in work and forced to multitask. You’re better off including more people on your team who will be able to contribute in clear, specific ways and stay on track. 

To Peter Taylor’s point, set expectations at the beginning of the project. Take the time to understand the companies, external collaborators and vendors involved, and establish realistic outcomes. 

Then, find a management tool that will improve team communication, provide visibility into the project, and define clear roles and accountability. Keep all your project information in one central spot, so everyone stays on the same page and has access to all the key details. 

Don’t let one seemingly small mishap turn into a silent project killer. 





Couldn't agree more. Especially on the poor communication, lack of clarity and undefined roles and responsibilities. These are definetly project killers.

#1 Thing that derails a Project

A Project Team with low EIQ. Many organizations have proven that selecting project teams using a EIQ model produces greater returns. These teams are self aware which creates a higher level of engagement. This increase in engagement results in higher productivity.

RE: #1 Thing that derails a Project

Emily Esposito's picture
Thanks, Terry! That's a great addition.

And perhaps one more thing-

And perhaps one more thing--don't assume everyone knows what acronyms stand for. I have no idea what EIQ means.

And perhaps one more thing -

Emily Esposito's picture
Great point, Joseph. That is an important point to remember. I believe Terry is referring to emotional intelligence quotient. -Emily


Anybody who says that multitasking is a project killer has probably never worked on a project more complicated that baking a batch of brownies. For example, in software development projects designers, programmers, QA testers, and project managers multitask every day of their working lives because every task requires some "down time" when direct involvement by the performer must wait for completion of another phase of the development. Like programmers who must wait for testing of their code (by other testers). During this time, to use that downtime effectively, they must work on something else. Every person involved in a development project has a queue of work. Processing this queue is called multitasking. For a more intelligent view of multitasking, perhaps you might want to read my article "Project Management - Multitasking" -- https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141121003453-15435806-project-management-multitasking?trk=mp-reader-card.

More than brownies

Not that I think Johanna Rothman needs my defense, but I think that your hint that she's likely to have no real experience is ridiculous. She's written about a dozen books on management, and has deep hands on knowledge on software project & program management. I believe her multitasking comment meant not having people fully committed to the project and your examples are more tactical about personal time management. Even those ignore the current state of art in many software teams today who are using test first approaches - some people would see first building your software and sending it off to testing the wrong sequence of events.


Strong morale is required for success; snap judgment and contemptuous comments are guaranteed to erode it.

Centralized Accountability

Not making team members accountable for their deliverables is a killer. If team members think that success or failure of project is the problem of project manager alone, then there is a problem right there. All the team members should be made accountable for their deliverables.

RE: Centralized Accountability

Emily Esposito's picture
Thanks Shiva! Accountability is definitely key to a successful project. -Emily

What Kills A Project

Ultimately, all of the things mentioned may impact the success of a project. However, the real killer of a project are the people. It is important to choose the right person for each segment of the project. It is important to evaluate and segment parts of a project based on the strengths each individual possesses. Provide timelines and give feedback based on individual projects assigned. Bring the group together with a project facilitator that reports directly to the manager. With communication at the forefront, the facilitator or project leader can set deadlines based on the next meeting date. Meetings will continue until all aspects are completed. This will provide continuous flow and more positive results. At the end of the project, the facilitator will submit the project in draft format to his manager, requesting feedback and analysis. The facilitator will then take that information to finalize the project by interviewing, requesting further explanations and reviewing or expanding testing results allowing each member to perfect their segment. This proves to be a great learning technique and positive results. Now resubmit. You have met management deadline and provided a 'great' finished project. If done correctly, this suggestive approach can provide superb results. with communication at the forefront.

RE: What Kills A Project

Emily Esposito's picture
Thanks Audrey, great tips!

Know your clients well.

Try to focus to the absolute start point on a project. Depending on where you start and what you do. This will put in a different place. The one that will remain the same is who you choose to do business with. Who is your customer? Why do you want to do work for them? You may have the best team for your market, but if they don't gel with your customer you will not achieve the desired result. As I agree with all o the items above. I do think it is key to focus at how you start in detail. The old saying the first step is a big a one, really does pinpoint how owners and or a sales team can create a platform to derail the best companies. If this is done with care and with dedication to the team to follow. You will live past step one.

RE: Know your clients well.

Emily Esposito's picture
Thanks Jeremy, the beginning of a project is definitely important! -Emily

That's why I try to avoid any

That's why I try to avoid any projects at all. Why set myself up for potential failure?

Balance task and relationship outcomes

To keep a project on track clear project goals that the key stakeholders can buy into are necessary. In addition, all team members need the EQ/mindfulness to keep the relationships on track too. Too often project teams are managed by hard task masters who forget that to get to the end goal, one requires a cohesive team of motivated, committed, engaged teams who share the vision and are willing and able (have the authority, responsibility and competencies) to keep at it until they achieve their shared goal. The project leader needs to make the envisioned end goal very clear and aspirational to the entire team.

The #1 Thing That Kills a Project

In My short experience i find "Lack of Strong Leadership summarise a common problem, if the PM lack strong leadership skills projects seems to be going everywhere leading nowhere, that sometimes kills the three fundamentals of project management, Budget, Time and finally The Scope of the Project

1#Thing that kills a project

Very resourceful! Good to hear different opinions! Thank's

6 main reasons behind project failure and how you could avoid th

We as a whole realize that turning into an effective business person needs diligent work, devotion, and duty. From overseeing assets to strategize forthcoming undertakings to adapting new apparatuses, there is not a considerable measure of time in the day to make gigantic blunders.That is why, entrepreneurs need to work smarter, not harder.

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