Project Rescue: How to Identify a Failing Project

If you’ve ever worked on a project, managed a project, requisitioned a project, had anything to do with a project – you’re probably familiar with a frustrating condition known as failure. You’re not alone. Recent studies indicate that 68% of IT projects fail, missing the mark in time, cost, scope, or adoption.

So what can you do about it? eimagine has created a full guidebook to help transpire your project from failure to success.

In a series of three articles, we’ll explore how to identify a failing project, how to correct a failing project, and how to prevent a failing project.

This first article focuses on the aspects of a project that can help you identify the tell-tale signs of a downward slide.



Stay with us here. IT projects don’t typically fail because of technology. We have seen time and time again that IT projects fail due to people.

Teams are made up of people. In working with many people over the course of many projects, we’ve come to see a trend – five common issues that inevitably rise up to tank a project.

  1. Lack of project transparency
  2. Lack of stakeholder and user engagement
  3. Poor communication
  4. Mistrust
  5. Lack of user adoption


  1. Lack of project transparency

Transparency is often missing because it is equated with revealing weakness. It’s hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to raise your hand and ask a question for fear of looking ignorant – but it’s crucial. Try thinking of showing weakness as inherently showing strength.

How does that work? It means truly being honest about your expectations. It means you may need to talk to other people to find the answer. It is the way you address other team members – are you informing them of all the risks or are you afraid to have that conversation? It means making sure everyone is on the same page, from executive sponsors to the BA, all the way to end users.

It takes a lot of effort to get there, but it is worthwhile. If people shut off and refuse to be transparent, there is no common understanding. You may not only be working on a different angle, but a different problem altogether!

  1. Lack of stakeholder and user engagement in the project

The college project in which one person did all the work and the other team members rested on those laurels is a well-known legend. This sort of thing can – and does – happen in the workplace as well.

The reasons may be somewhat different, but the outcome is still less-than-desirable. Team members may be pulled from outside their areas of expertise. This is not necessarily a bad thing because it can provide a fresh perspective, but if leaders do not deliberately cultivate buy-in the project can fail. It is crucial for key stakeholders to be all-in from the start. With fully invested stakeholders, it becomes far easier to gain buy-in from other team members.

  1. Poor communication

Having the ability to talk is not the same as having the ability to communicate thoughts and ideas. Our thoughts rush ahead of our words and we don’t always say everything the other person need to hear. We assume we’re working from the same information bank because a concept may already be familiar to us (a phenomenon known as “the curse of knowledge”).

Poor communication can become a major roadblock. Studies show that people need to hear something new at least 7 times before it sinks in. You cannot tell your team something only once – you will have to over it time and time again, allowing for questions without chastisement. If everyone doesn’t understand the same vision and goal, the project will likely fail.

  1. Mistrust

Mistrust is closely tied to a lack of transparency. If a team cannot trust its leaders – or each other – there will be continual stalling.

Building trust isn’t a quick fix. It starts small. For example, if you tell someone you’ll send something, you send it. If you promised to deliver something a certain time, you deliver it then – or immediately (and transparently) explain why it is delayed.

Several years ago when working with a client on requirements confirmation, we were granted access to two systems. One system housed user stories created by the client’s team and another system housed the prior vendor’s version of the same stories. Mistrust had caused great (and unnecessary) duplication of effort.

It’s mission critical to ensure you build trust on a project from the beginning. Learn a little about the people you’re working with. Make an effort to understand their working styles. Do what you say you’ll do and partner with people. Put personal desires aside to look for the best solution.

  1. Lack of user adoption

A project is ultimately a failure if you don’t have user adoption. Yet the end goal is often treated as an afterthought.

There might be several reasons for this. There’s a lot of framing that needs to happen, and the amount of time needed to get people on board is systematically misunderstood. Time and effort needs to be made to not only make assumptions about end users, but absorb their input. That needs to be addressed early through good communication.

You might luck into a successful system but if you don’t achieve enough user engagement, it won’t matter.


You can’t fix what you don’t know is wrong. The earlier you can identify the signs of a failing project, the greater your chance of success for turning the project around relative to your timeline, budget and scope.

Does your project need rescued? Download our Project Rescue Guide and get back on track.