We need to stop spreading the false notion that only 35% of projects are successful.

Sitting in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, I was ready to hit enter on a LinkedIn post stating that we need to stop spreading the false notion that only 35% of projects are successful. As I was about to press send, I realized this needed more discussion and thought before being shared. Therefore, let’s start by putting an end to this myth. Yes. This is a myth.

It is silly.

Whenever I see an infographic on social media or a consultant using this number (or something similar, as the number commonly ranges from 30-35%) as a reason to justify their thought leadership, training, services, etc. I immediately think of the Ambulance chaser attorneys who feed on accident victims.  “If you have been injured in an accident, call so and s, law firm. All I do is win and get you the money you deserve!”  Now for my international colleagues, this is a phenomenon that every mid to major city in the US has. Their ads clog up our televisions and roadside billboards   Their ads look something like this.

Why am I so adamant about putting this silly notion to rest?

A few reasons:

  1. It is virtually impossible to accurately measure the success or failure of projects across the globe.
  2. Factors like culture, economic conditions, access to resources and political instability can greatly affect project outcomes, making it difficult to draw meaningful conclusions from global data, assuming you could harness it all.
  3. Different organizations have different definitions of what constitutes “success” – time, cost and scope are common criteria for measuring project success, but customer satisfaction, innovation, or impact may also be considered.

Where does this come from? The Standish Report.

The Standish Group’s report on project failure rates is often cited as the most reliable source of information, however, there are several reasons why it may not be accurate. Here are six points to consider when evaluating the Standish Report:

  1. The report does not take into account the complexity of projects. Projects with more complex requirements and longer timelines have a higher risk of failure, yet the report does not differentiate between these types of projects.
  2. The report does not consider the impact of external factors such as changes in technology or economic conditions that could affect a project’s success rate.
  3. The report relies heavily on self-reported data from organizations, which can be unreliable and biased.
  4. The report does not take into account the quality of project management practices, which can significantly influence success rates.
  5. The report only looks at IT projects, so it cannot provide an accurate picture of overall project failure rates across industries and sectors.
  6. The report has not been updated since 2015, so it may no longer reflect current trends in project success and failure rates.

Read the print below the figures. “The percentage of projects that were OnBudget from FY2011-2015 within the CHAOS database.  A sample size of 300 does not make a global benchmark.  Our studies on climate change impacting projects took data from 30,000 inputs and that is still a drop in the bucket.

Sourced from: https://www.standishgroup.com/sample_research_files/CHAOSReport2015-Final.pdf

Think about it for a moment

Do 65% of your projects fail to meet objectives? I used to track project success against the triple constraint and in my projects, and for a ten year span, projects I managed had a 93% success rate.  Am I an exceptional project manager? Well… of course. [kidding]

Does the collective of project management only succeed 35% of the time?  Maybe, maybe not.  We simply can’t quantify it.  There are too many variables.

Despite the complexity of different variables in each individual project, it is undeniable that failure rates exist. Organizations and businesses should take the initiative to analyze their own projects so they can learn from past mistakes, identify areas for improvement, and move forward more strategically.

I am going to go back and enjoy my coffee.  Feel free to comment.  I would love to have your thoughts on this.

Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

One thought to “We need to stop spreading the false notion that only 35% of projects are successful.”

  1. Hi Joel, Great post! Neither on budget, nor on time or on target are real percentages due to many lacks when organizations send their figures about IiT projects, to the Standish group. I have sent to them between 2006-2012 many figures related to my former IT company successful projects, or waiting for a probably failure, but their two or three constraint considerations for statistics were weak. I have renounced by those times to send reports. Anyhow, the quality of the output product, customer satisfaction, percentages of contingency or management reserve used in projects, real acquired outcomes from the product utilisation, and expected benefits met or not, final impact on the environment etc., and many other requests for real statistics are usually not presented in many statistics about successful or failed projects, even for megaprojects. More deeper considerations should be set up, probably in a dedicated manual for project performance reporting.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.