Project Management Institute

Understanding project failure

using cognitive mapping in an insurance project

Failure is a common outcome of complex projects. To understand project failure and learn from such mistakes to improve future performance, many organizations institute lessons-learned sessions during and after their projects. But such sessions often miss the deeper reasons why projects fail, reasons often more clearly identified through modeling approaches like cognitive mapping. This article examines how organizations can use cognitive mapping to identify a project's causal chains and understand the causes of a project's failure. In doing so, it reviews the literature on the root causes of project failure and the need to learn from projects; it identifies four dimensions of project success, three factors for managing projects successfully, and eight factors of project failure. It reviews research on why organizations frequently fail to learn from projects and on how organizations can learn from projects by using cognitive mapping and system dynamics.
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