The Top 5 Project Showstoppers

What are the things that can grind a project to a halt? Its a great question. And one I asked myself recently. When looking at ways to ensure you avoid project failure its best to first define what success is.  But lets ask what we think failure would look like.

A project is considered a failure when it has not delivered what was required. In order to succeed, a project must deliver to cost, to quality, and on time; and it must deliver the benefits presented in the business case (you have written a business case, right?)

Sounds simple. Why is it then that we see more projects fail than succeed?  I am renovating my home at present and I have to say that its employing all my PM skills - I have a plan, a budget, controls in place, a reporting cycle with suppliers, stage gate reviews and all the rest.  So far things are going well.  But what about when things go wrong, the unexpected, the things that creep out of the woodwork. What then?  How can you "manage" these things.  Try that in a fast-paced environment with millions of pounds at stake, different stakeholder needs (and personalities) and things can very quickly spiral out of control.

Here are my top 5 project showstoppers.

Change Control

You need to get this in place very early in a project and ensure everyone understands the mechanics for dealing with change through the project lifecycle.  A project is typically dealing with changing something anyway – but what if the fundamental requirements change?  Changes like this need to be controlled so that if necessary, extra budget can be requested or extra resource or extra time.  If requirements change significantly in the middle of a project then the business case should also be revisited - does it still make sense?  Ensuring that such changes are managed and communicated using relevant governance frameworks enables sponsors and key stakeholders to have the opportunity to accept or reject such changes. It will ensure that your time, cost and quality goals can reflect these accordingly.


This is linked to point one, but its about the structure of dealing with change through a project’s lifecycle.  But moreso, effective project governance is about ensuring that projects deliver the value expected of them.  Its about the right stakeholders providing direction for the project , its about the sponsors taking “ownership” (yes, its not all down to the project manager, but the project manager has to ensure this governance framework is in place and works), and it’s about reporting back and disclosure.  It’s fairly obvious isn’t it – get your sponsor(s) and key stakeholders involved from the outset by setting up the right governance framework (for you and your organisation) will clearly mean less or little chance of failure, as time, cost and quality can be better communicated and managed.  It’s not about micro management, its about communication and control.


Manage requirements incorrectly and things very quickly go kaput.  Why?  Because project success is about delivering the benefits in the business case.  If you have poorly documented requirements or you allow them to change throughout delivery (or development) without managing that change, then the scope of the project may well have “creeped” and the real benefits identified to have been delivered, lost.  This failure to address scope volatility or scope creep is so common and is a bit like the deadly assassin of projects.  It’s all too easy to allow requirements to change during a typical waterfall approach to project delivery.  If requirements are not validated against the project’s overall objectives to ensure each requirement supports the project’s objective, then ultimately you run the risk of not delivering the projects goals (business case).


Heres an interesting one.   Priority.  Where does the project that you are working on fit into the overall priority of the business?   I mean, does it align the company’s strategic objectives?  If not, why are you doing whatever it is you are doing?!  If you don’t ask the question, pretty soon someone else will.  And they may want to stop your project if it doesn’t align (unless it is being done for tactical reasons).    There may be no process or mechanism that you have to prioritise projects at the moment, so perhaps you need to put this in place.    Or, simply too many projects are in progress at the same time and therefore the ability to execute is diminished because too many key stakeholders become time constrained by juggling too many projects with BAU.  Of course, quality will suffer.  If you have a well established project office that is doing its job properly then these things can be managed/avoided.  If you don’t, as a PM, simply ask yourself the question at the outset, where does this project fit into the priority of the company and therefore should I be doing it now, or at all.

Get an Excellent & Committed Project Manager

This may sound obvious but too many times I have seen inexperienced or under skilled PM’s take control of fairly critical projects.   Worse still, project managers who are uninspiring , unenthusiastic and unmotivated – all which will inevitably rub off on the other project team members. So what makes a good project manager? Here are some important traits (aside from just having a Prince 2 “badge”):

  • Engaging (throughout)
  • Problem solver
  • Empathy
  • Excellent communicator (written and verbal)
  • Competent

For me a good project manager has to be a bit like a chameleon and change tact and approach dependent on the project and/or stakeholders involved.  In todays modern environment, you’ll need to be part business analyst, part subject matter expert, part facilitator, part leader, part mitigator, part counsellor – and on most days – all of the above!  You cant get an excellent project manager off the street, and its not about just ticking a checklist either!  If it was that easy – wouldn’t all projects succeed?

So lets be honest…a lot of ”projects” will continue to fail.  You might be reading this thinking of one or two projects of your own that have, or currently feel like they are.    But take a long hard look at these 5 showstoppers and ask yourself….are you or have you always committed to all of the above?

Allam Zia | Greenlight Blog | Jersey, Guernsey, Channel Islands

About the Author

Allam is Greenlight's newest Senior Consultant and our resident CRM guru. With over 14 years of effective change delivery and qualifications in ISEB Business Analysis / PRINCE2 Project Management, Allam is a true all round Change Manager.

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