How to Spot a Doomed Project

Last updated on
September 18, 2023



How to Spot a Doomed Project


Almost everyone who has worked in IT for a while has encountered a project that was doomed right from the start. In fact, nearly one-third of IT projects are cancelled before completion, according to a report by The Standish Group, and about 36 percent of projects fail to meet their goals.

Given these gloomy statistics, it’s no wonder that almost 75 percent of business and IT professionals lack confidence in project success. But things don’t have to be this way.

While not all projects are created equal and some will inevitably be more successful than others, there are many early signs of problems to come that project managers and all involved should watch out for.

Saving a doomed project

What’s important is that most IT projects fail for reasons other than technology. According to Anthony Mersino, the founder of Vitality Chicago, an Agile Training firm focused on helping teams thrive and organizations transform, the reasons are typically people- and process-related.

In this article, we describe five common reasons why IT projects fail to help you identify them long before they spell a disaster for your project and potentially for your career. Keep in mind that the ability to identify problems alone isn’t enough to prevent disastrous outcomes.

You must also be ready to stamp them out promptly and professionally if you want to keep your project on the path to success.

5 signs of a doomed project

Uninterested stakeholders

Stakeholders often play a critical role in a project’s success. Researchers from the University of Ottawa discovered that 33 percent of projects fail due to lack of interest from top management, which is hardly a surprise to anyone who has ever tried to seek approval from uninterested stakeholders.

When stakeholders are not involved, they often build resentment toward the project and stop seeing value in it. For this reason, it’s paramount to conduct meetings with all important stakeholders on a regular basis and keep them in the know about the project’s progress.

Try to get as much feedback from the stakeholders as possible to increase their engagement and make them feel personally interested in the project’s success.

Dysfunctional team

The completion of just about any even moderately complex project requires the cooperation of the entire team. It also requires each member of the team to be sufficiently experienced to accomplish the task at hand.

When a mismatch between the depth of team experience and the magnitude of project complexity occurs, team communication often breaks down, resulting in suboptimal team performance and potentially even project failure.

Dysfunctional team is signal that your project might be doomed.

Project managers can largely prevent this by encouraging close collaboration and ensuring that the right tasks have been assigned to the right people. All team members should feel comfortable when voicing their opinions to keep any signs of dysfunction or fragmentation on the surface, where they can be easily dealt with.

Lack of progress

For a project to succeed, goals must be met on time and within the budget. There are many reasons why progress can stall for months on end, ranging from the burden of administrative tasks to personal incompetence to the lack of requirements.

Regardless of the reason why a project isn’t moving forward as it should, the outcome is almost always the same: demotivation, stagnation, and, eventually, failure.

Lack of progress is signal that your project might be doomed.

Sometimes, the lack of progress indicates that it won’t be possible to meet the schedules in a timely manner, and that’s when the project’s future must be carefully reconsidered to avoid wasting resources on an endeavor that won’t be beneficial to the business’s overall goals anyway.

Too much politics

Some people see IT projects as a venue for their personal agendas. Such people can easily jeopardize a project’s success by derailing the project from its original course and using it to attain personal gains.

Other examples of politics standing in the way of project completion include the presence of stakeholders from different departments, a power struggle within the team, or unhealthy client/vendor relationships.

It’s paramount to always keep politics out of decisions that should be technical, professional, and nonpartisan. While it’s not always possible in practice to completely remove the influence of politics on IT projects, every little bit helps.

Bad timing

Some projects are doomed because their time hasn’t come yet. Maybe the organization is already spread thin, working on multiple projects at the same time and lacking the resources necessary to take one more project from start to completion, or perhaps there’s something else that’s causing the stakeholders to be unsupportive.

When a project takes off when the timing isn’t right, its failure is almost always guaranteed. Yes, some projects reach completion despite happening at the wrong time and in an unsupportive environment, but such projects almost always exceed the budget and corrupt the team morale. In other words, they are virtually never worth it in the first place.


There are many signs indicating that a project is doomed to failure, and most of them have nothing to do with technology. In this article, we’ve described five common reasons why IT projects fail to help you take your project all the way to completion.

When you involve all key stakeholders, ensure that all team members are competent in their roles and function as one unit, prevent the lack of progress, steer the project away from politics, and pick the right time to work on the project, you can dramatically reduce the chances of project failure.

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Matt Warcholinski
Chief Growth Officer

A serial entrepreneur, passionate R&D engineer, with 15 years of experience in the tech industry.

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