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Project Management

7 Shocking Project Management Statistics and Lessons We Should Learn

Daniel Threlfall
July 21, 2014

Project management is no cakewalk. From crushing deadlines to strangling budgets, there is no arguing with the fact that project management is downright brutal.

In my experience, one of the best ways to view the task of project management is from the perspective of studies and statistics. I’m no math whiz, but numbers have a way of putting things into perspective and helping me find my place on the maelstrom of management.

In this article, I’ve assembled a few fascinating and shocking statistics regarding project management. I think there are some valuable lessons we can learn.

Disclaimer: These statistics come from publicly available studies. They are representative largely of the IT industry and are not intended to be characteristic of all companies or project management practices.

1.  Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100% of their projects.

(Study source)

This statistic is so troubling it’s almost hard to believe. Here’s what Gallup remarked on the study:

PricewaterhouseCoopers, which reviewed 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and across various industries, found that only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.

Whether the completion rate (not provided in the study) was 99% or 1% isn’t the issue. The issue here is that companies simply don’t finish some projects.

Lessons learned:

2.  The average cost overrun of all projects is 27%.

(Study source)

Listen to this this chilling record of blown-out budgets:

The average overrun was 27%—but that figure masks a far more alarming one. Graphing the projects’ budget overruns reveals a “fat tail”—a large number of gigantic overages. Fully one in six of the projects we studied was a black swan, with a cost overrun of 200%, on average, and a schedule overrun of almost 70%. This highlights the true pitfall of IT change initiatives: It’s not that they’re particularly prone to high cost overruns on average, as management consultants and academic studies have previously suggested. It’s that an unusually large proportion of them incur massive overages—that is, there are a disproportionate number of black swans. By focusing on averages instead of the more damaging outliers, most managers and consultants have been missing the real problem.

Nobody likes to slaughter a budget. The project manager doesn’t like it. The PMO doesn’t like it. And the company’s executives and shareholders don’t like it. But from the looks of it, we’re spending an average of a quarter more than we intend to on our projects.

Lessons learned:

3.  57% of projects fail due to “breakdown in communications.”

(Study source)

This survey was conducted in the late ‘90s by the research company Spikes Cavell. They were tasked with identifying the causes of project failure in the UK finance industry. From interviews and analysis, they determined that the leading cause of project failure was communication breakdown.

The onus for communication failure falls upon every involved party, but project managers are particularly responsible for accurate communication.

Lessons learned:

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4.  39% of projects fail due to lack of planning.

(Study source)

This statistic, also gleaned from the Spikes Cavell finance survey, touches directly on the nuts and bolts of project management. A project manager needs four things when working on a project:

  1. Competent high-level planning
  2. Adequate resources
  3. Sufficient work activity to drive the project to completion
  4. Ability to predict project risk ahead of time

Lesson learned:

5.  77% of high-performing companies understand the value of project management. 40% of low-performing companies understand the value of  project management.

(Study source)

I know I’m biased, but I think—nay, I know—that project management is very important. The more your company values project management, the more likely it is that your projects will succeed.

Lesson learned:

6.  60% of failed projects have a duration of less than one year.

(Study source)

This statistic comes from a study conducted by KPMG Canada focused on the IT industry. Not all projects are the Big Digs—multibillion-dollar, decades-long tasks. Short-term projects take the cake both in sheer numbers and in the sheer survival rate (or lack thereof).

Lesson learned:

7.  The failure rate of projects with budgets over $1M is 50% higher than the failure rate of projects with budgets below $350,000.

(Study source)

When the cost of failure is higher, the chance of failure is also higher. Regardless of the budget, every project deserves a lot of attention and organization. However, we would do well to pay special attention to the bigger projects.

Lesson learned:

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Here’s one more statistic to close out this article:

90% of global senior executives and project management experts say: 'good project management is key to delivering successful results and gaining a competitive edge.'

That’s pretty obvious, and the takeaways are equally obvious:  Great project management is the key to success. It's worth heeding the numbers, and asserting our expertise so we don't become part of those troubling statistics.

Use TeamGantt to help make your next project a success, and beat these stats. You’ll have all the features you need to finish projects on time and on budget. Monitor task progress, collaborate with your team in real time, and share project updates with your stakeholders—all in one simple and intuitive tool everyone will love. 😍

Watch the video below to see how TeamGantt works, and try our online project management software for free today!


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