Failed Projects and The Lessons They Teach Us

Failed Projects and The Lessons They Teach Us

It can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly why project management skills are needed. However, a look at some of the most famous projects that have ever failed should be all the explanation that is required. Here we will take a good look at just how they failed. We’ll also look at what lessons we can learn from that to help us in the future.

Airbus A380

In 2004, Airbus began to piece together the parts of their Airbus A380. This was the plane they hoped would be the largest passenger carrier in the skies. The pieces were made in Toulouse and shipped their Hamburg assembly site. As they began to put the pieces together, they realised one thing, they didn’t fit properly. 

It was later discovered that different sets of designers working on separate parts of the plane had in fact been using different CAD programmes. This had caused a slight variation in the measurements. 

It doesn’t matter if project team members are working in different time zones and across borders. It is important to ensure that everyone is working in the same way, and this means clearly defining the systems and programmes that should be used.

Challenger Space Shuttle

Unfortunately, sometimes these failed projects can result in the worst possible outcome. In 1986, on 28th January just 76 seconds after take-off the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded. The case was later discovered to have been a faulty seal on one of the solid rocket boosters. This in combination with the cold weather had resulted in the tragedy. Experts had advised that the inclement weather could make the launch more difficult and this one was put down, in part, to human error. 

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Human error can have a significant impact on any project. However one thing that is taught during project manager courses is that it is important to put systems in place. Successful project management can assist in the minimisation of the risk that human error can cause. 

2019 World Athletics Championships

In 2019 the world’s best athletes travelled to Doha for the World Athletics Championships. Unfortunately, the host nation had not managed to sell very many of the tickets for the event. This meant they had to compete in an almost empty and very quiet stadium. The price of the tickets was blamed for the small number that sold. People criticised the IAAF strongly for putting the desire to make lots of money before the needs of the competitors. 

It is hoped that a lesson was learned from this that no matter how much money you are willing to throw at something, if there isn’t a local need for it then you will just not be able to get the buyers.

Brandenburg Airport, Berlin

The Germans are known for being particularly efficient, but sadly the Brandenburg Airport rather let the side down. It had been hoped that the construction of the airport would put Berlin on the map as a commercial hub. Work finally started in 2006 after 15 years of planning. It was hoped that the airport would be ready to open in 2011 but this was not the case. The airport finally opened 9 years late in 2020. This was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when travel was limited. 

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The majority of the issues that the airport faced came as a result of there being too many stakeholders involved in the project. It was impossible for them to progress at the normal rate because the common goal was diluted. Scope creep and ambition made the project difficult. External factors will almost certainly have come into play here, however, as there was an economic downturn in 2007. It is vital for a project manager to be aware of these external factors and make sure that they do not derail the project. 

Knight Capital 

An American global financial services firm, Knight Capital use high -frequency trading algorithms in order to trade securities. The company was responsible for a significant stock market disruption in August 2012. This ended up costing the company a staggering $460m in just 45 short minutes. The company executed around 4 million trades on 154 stocks at the beginning of trading after one of the engineers failed to copy an important new script to one of the companies eight servers. 

This error can be attributed to a rushed deadline. The team of engineers had been given only a month to make important changes to the software to allow it to work as a part of the new trading environment. A test programme that allowed traders to buy high and sell low was allowed to go live during the rush. If the company had pushed the project back and made sure that the software was fully ready for use, then they could have saved them.

The Garden Bridge

A failed vanity project, pushed by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge project managed to cost £53m and was never actually built. The project was deemed to be over optimistic both in its final costings and also in terms of its fundraising chances. The shortfall that occurred as a result of this was not something that could be overcome. 

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Ambitions need to be forged in reality, and never more so than when fundraising is needed to get a project started. Before spending money on a website, £161,000, it might have been a good idea to see if it was viable!

Ford Edsel

Ford spent considerable time carrying out research in order to see exactly what the public wanted from a car. However, they took so much that by the time they were ready to unveil the Edsel the publics opinions had changed, and the car was a flop.

Market research is a great tool but only carries value when used promptly. It is important to being new ideas to the marketplace quickly or you can easily be left behind. This is increasingly relevant in today’s fast paced global market.

Sometimes things go wrong in projects. It is essential that project managers, therefore, are aware of what could derail a project or lead to failure so that they can take steps to minimise such risks.


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