7 project management pitfalls, and how PRINCE2 helps avoid them

project manager about to tread on banana skin

It’s often reported that 70% of projects fail, with the definition of failure being that the expected outcomes are not fully achieved. In my career as a Project Manager, I’ve found that using a systematic approach to project management is key to avoiding the issues that lay at the root cause of such a high failure rate. Hence why I’m such an advocate of the PRINCE2 project management methodology.

Here are seven common reasons why projects fail, and how PRINCE2 helps to avoid failure in each case.

1.      Ambiguous Project Plan

If the project plan is unclear or ambiguous, the project team is likely to miss essential activities, overshoot schedules, and break through budgets. An unclear plan risks delivering a product that is different to client expectations.

A PRINCE2 Project Plan is a statement of intent, describing how and when project objectives should be achieved. It provides an outline of all key activities and the resources that will be required to achieve project objectives.

2.      Lack of customer involvement

When the Project Manager does not involve the customer sufficiently, they risk the project’s products falling short of expectations. It is also true that the less the customer is involved, the less the end-user is engaged in the project and the end product. The result could be a less than adequate product with less than adequate user adoption.

The role of the customer in PRINCE2 projects is clearly defined. They have a key role to play as a member of the Project Board, and responsibilities include appointing the Project Manager, monitoring and controlling project progress, ensuring that risks are identified, assessed and managed, and securing project funding (among others). Additionally, the customer will always chair Project Board review meetings. By insisting that the customer holds such responsibilities, PRINCE2 ensures customer involvement in the project.

3.      Poor scheduling

Projects that are poorly scheduled run the risk of slippage and overshooting delivery timetables, as well as extra costs. Risks to schedules include poorly identified interdependencies.

Within PRINCE2, the Project Manager will control project progression under PRINCE2’s management stages. This takes project work through project stages, with each reviewed when complete before signing off and moving to the next stage. This approach also aids collaboration between the Project Manager and the Project Board, with the Project Board working to defined review periods and the Project Manager presenting detailed plans for the next stage.

4.      Ineffective project teams

Failure to put the right project team in place creates poor inputs, gaps in required information, and a lack of experience required to see the project through to successful completion.

PRINCE2 provides guidance on picking the right team, with seven distinct roles in PRINCE2 projects:

  1. The Customer
  2. The Senior User
  3. The Senior Supplier
  4. The Project Manager
  5. The Team Manager
  6. Change Authority
  7. Project Assurance


The Project Manager, Team Managers, Change Authority and Project Assurance are based on the criteria of skills and abilities. Building a good project team should help the project flow smoothly from initiation to close.

5.      Poor attention to costs

An inaccurate budget and not accounting for everything needed to execute the project leads to budget blowouts. Estimates made without detailed quotes mean that actual costs can have a wild variance to budgeted costs. A lack of contingency planning and adherence to cost tolerance has the same result.

Developing the business case in PRINCE2 requires interrogation of costs and includes a cost benefits analysis, allowing the forecast benefits to be measured against accurate costs assessment.

6.      Poor risk management

Whatever the project, there will be risks to its successful completion. It is the Project Manager’s job to plan for risk, working with the team to identify risks and strategies to mitigate them. Unanticipated risks can kill projects.

Within PRINCE2, one of the major themes is risk. The Project Manager must develop a Risk Register for all PRINCE2 projects. This is a key document, helping to assess, monitor, minimise and control project risks. It lists all identified risks and the plans to deal with them should they occur.

7.      Lack of control throughout the project

While it is imperative to have a solid project plan, it is essential that the project plan is monitored as it progresses. If the project is not effectively monitored, changes needed will be missed or initiated poorly. Schedules can slip, costs overrun, and project products miss quality targets.

The process of controlling stages in PRINCE2 provides a detailed list of what a Project Manager must do to manage each stage of a project. The eight control activities are:

  1. Authorisation of work packages
  2. Review of the status of work packages
  3. Review of completed work
  4. Review of the project stage
  5. Informing the project board of progress
  6. Record all risks and issues
  7. Escalate risks and issues to the project board if necessary
  8. Take corrective actions


This list is not exhaustive, but it does provide the major reasons for project failure. As you can see, the PRINCE2 methodology provides the tools, techniques and strategies to avoid any of these causing a project to fail. However, success very much depends upon how good your Project Manager is, and how adept he or she is at putting into practice the rigorous processes of PRINCE2 project management. Experience is key.

To discover how focused project management using PRINCE2 methodology can help your project be one of the 30% of successful projects, contact Your Project Manager:

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