Project Failure: 10 Famous Failures and 5 Ways to Spot Them Before They Happen

by Marcus Varner
, 3 min read

Project failure is no stranger to most teams, but there are ways to spot it before it makes headlines. Here are 10 of the most infamous failures ever and how you can spot such failures before they happen…

10. Sony Betamax

project failure It was higher quality, but the lower price of VHS-C camcorders and the 40+ companies that decided to run with VHS was just too much.

9. New Coke

project failure

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. There was nothing wrong with old Coke.

8. Polaroid Instant Home Movies

7. Crystal Pepsi

 project failure

See #9.

6. McDonald's Arch Deluxe Burger project failure

Most adults don't consider McDonald's fine cuisine and weren't interested in paying significantly more for only slightly different burgers.

5. Apple Lisa

 project failure

Apple was targeting business consumers, and the lower price tag of IBM PCs just didn't allow Apple to capture much market share.

4. Levi Type 1 Jeans

 project failure

Fashion is fickle.

3. IBM PCjr

 project faliure

When it was introduced, it was twice as expensive as an Atari or Commodore.

2. The DeLorean DMC-12 project failure

Despite the fact that it was a very cool car, DeLorean himself took the company under after he was arrested for drug-trafficking which resulted in bankruptcy.

1. The Ford Edsel

project failure

There were many reasons why the Edsel failed. The name for one. The Edsel story is now a real-world example of how not to market a product.  

But how does this happen?

How do these types of glaring omissions get past the teams that created these products? While the market isn't always as predictable as we'd like it to be and hindsight is always 20/20, failed projects like these can usually be traced to a few factors…

Lack of Interest

People stop showing up for meetings. Stakeholders stop participating or giving timely feedback. Tasks stop getting completed on time. All of these are signs that interest in a project is flagging.

How to stop it: Keep communications as up-to-date as possible. Track all assignments. Hold all assignees accountable. If stakeholders stop caring about a project, hold a sit-down to determine the current perceived value of your project to the organization.

Poor Communication

The team doesn't know when things are getting done, what's not getting done, or why it's not getting done. The project lead isn't communicating changes to the rest of the team. When communications do go out, they are either late or inaccurate.

How to stop it: While email and spreadsheets are okay for getting basic information out, they tend to be slower and more cumbersome than the typical fast-moving team needs. Consider purchasing tools that automate communications as much as possible.

Lack of Velocity

Assignments are long past due, stalled on the approval of an elusive stakeholder. Maybe team members are spending more and more time on other projects. At any rate, contrary to your best projected completion dates, your project has come to a full stop.

How to start it: See the solution to "Lack of Interest." Accountability is especially key here. Ensure that everyone is aware of their assignments and their due dates and then press them to meet them.

A "No-Bad-News" Environment

The project leader finds out about late assignments long after they were due. When project questions are emailed out, answers are slow in coming. Individual reports in meetings are especially rosy and don't match the chaos that seems to be engulfing a project.

How to stop it: Let numbers rule. Let your team be ruled by a handful of key metrics that you can track, such as on-time delivery rate. And then make sure your tools can accurately track those metrics in as close to real time as possible.

Scope Changes

The project starts to barely resemble the requirements as they were given at its outset. Timelines have stretched beyond the original projections. The phrase, "You know what would be really cool would be if we added ________," is uttered during the review and approval phase.

How to stop it: Use an airtight requirements gathering process before the project starts. In fact, don't even allow the project to start until you, your team, your stakeholders, and your requestor are all on the same page. And then treat that requirements doc like a binding contract. 

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