Failure in major government projects

The government has published a report detailing the progress of 191 major projects worth £353.7bn, in which eight projects were flagged with red status, suggesting “on time and on budget delivery appears unachievable”.

Eight projects flagged as RED out of 191 is a much lower figure than we would expect to find!  It suggests that just 4.2 per cent of projects are likely to fail – which would be an amazing result. Statistically we know the percentage of projects to significantly fail (let alone “challenged” in terms of cost, quality or timescales) is much, much higher. Many reviews and reports have suggested project failure rates somewhere between 25% and 65%.

Major projects of this scale are often not set up for success. Some people believe it’s an art form to design and structure a significant project programme for success.  In fact a scientific/engineering approach based on project intelligence (assuring critical good practice and avoiding toxic poor practice) delivers significant benefits but is rarely achieved.   

Two years ago the Major Projects Authority (MPA) predicted 30% failure rates. The recent report suggests a significant improvement in performance.

We believe that the intervention of the MPA is welcomed. It is likely their key challenge will be around interpretation of the real status of the programmes and projects and translation into the “oh so trusted” RAG status. We believe that you trust RAG at your peril. We see many organization’s reporting projects as GREEN and when rolled up to programme level also show GREEN, but review the programme intelligently (and top down) and you may determine no chance of success.

Publishing project information will provide the incentive needed to drive up the performance of government’s major projects. It will go someway to highlight the causes of project failure and require the programmes to be positioned and motivated to implement the necessary improvements to ensure success.