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  • claremayell

When is a project failure a success?

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

"Are any projects totally successful? Even with the best project management skills available, every project has some part failure" was the question and comment that started a rather animated team discussion this week.


You've probably had projects that have seemed easy but afterwards questioned whether they had actually made a difference. Chances are the success was limited by not identifying all the problems to fix. Or that the pre-mortem to work through possible problems and obstacles as the project progresses was not robust.


Compromises on projects are sometimes necessary to solve an unexpected problem blocking delivery. Project scope can change as it progresses from the original outcomes. Stretching or compressing timelines might be the only way to get them over the line.

Can a project with reduced scope and changes along the way be a success? Possibly - but it will need those initial problems to fix front of mind all the way. If they get lost in an ever increasing action list as the project progresses, success will be limited.


Even a project that is considered a complete failure will normally offer up some gems of learning that can be taken into future projects. And, no need to wait until the end of project to build it in.


So, how would we answer "Are any projects totally successful?" Yes - they can be.

It depends on how robust your upfront work is to detail outcomes with a real value.

It depends on how much the project team buy into the problems you are trying to fix

It depends whether you embed learnings from on failed areas into future ones.

Maybe you have a better answer? We'd love to hear what you think


Measuring the cost implication of a failed or stuck project is an important part of any post project review. We've set up a basic calculator to get you started here:

Additional reading:

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