Why do so Many Projects Fail in the Health and Allied Health Sector?

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Why do so Many Projects Fail in the Health and Allied Health Sector?

The Health and Allied Health Sector is really no different from many other sectors in the project management space. A recent article by my colleague M. Meere1 found that only 9% of organisations rate themselves as excellent in project management practice, while just on half meet their (project) goals. This leaves room for an awful lot of improvement across the board!

What’s different about the Health Sector is money or, perhaps more specifically, the lack thereof, for day to day operations let alone projects.

This is set to get worse with the Federal government’s 2015-2016 budget predicted to contain further cuts to the sector and, more and more operational and discretionary funds accessed through tender responses that, once won, are run as projects.

Hard won government funds cannot afford the enormous amount of wastage found in failing projects. This means that the projects that come attached to these funds must deliver on time, on budget and to the high standard or quality indicators so important in health.

Now, project-based funding is not new to the Health sector. However, successful project outcomes continue to elude it. Why?

Well, there are many reasons for this but one critical reason is the lack of suitably trained and thoughtfully allocated project managers. All too often the psychologist who already runs an overloaded practice or the radiology manager – again with a full-time load plus – or even the practice manager whose responsibilities include filling dentist chairs and improving productivity across all aspects of the practice and consultations, finds themselves running a significant project on the side. That is on top of their already heavy workload.

After all, I hear you say, how hard can it be for a highly education professional to manage a short-term project?


There is an argument that project management is really just good management so well within the skill sets of managers generally and, to a point I agree with this. However, very rarely do I find managers at any level in any sector trained in professional management practice. Sure they may have done some informal training or short courses on leadership or what we call ‘supervisor skills’ but, more often than not these courses focus on the highly important people management skills with little, if any attention given to the processes that underpin people management and set the foundation for effective, efficient project (and process) management. How many line managers, for example, can critically read a detailed financial report and see at a glance where the issues are likely to be? How many of these managers understand the concept of productivity and the time and effort equation that supports it?

Projects don’t just run along of their own accord from one step to the next. They need to be planned, directed, executed and managed in line with a workable, agreed and communicated approach. This doesn’t just happen.

To ensure success, an organisation and the people who work in projects need a methodology that will make sure that the project is planned, monitored and controlled in line with the pre-agreed outcomes or deliverables.

There are many causes of project failure and each project has its own issues but in almost all cases they fail because there is either no awareness of, or simply no framework or methodology in place that will facilitate a carefully planned, directed monitored and controlled project.

Some of the common mistakes that lead or contribute to the failure of projects2 include (and I think this is critical for many health sector projects) a failure to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’ results in a project delivering something that fails to meet the real needs of the organisation.

This is often apparent in the lack of a well-developed business case that spells out why the project is important, what the objectives are and what clients expect as deliverables within a finite and non-negotiable fixed sum of money.


Another common cause of project failure3 in health sector projects is a failure to establish a governance structure that is appropriate to the needs of the project. All too often stakeholders are underestimated, mismanaged or not even accounted for in the initial planning and so there is a failure to engage that results in sabotage or outright failure. There is often a lack of accountability that comes from a lack of clear roles set and defined at the beginning. This problem comes most often from the deficiency of time available to manage a project in the first place.

Recurring issues include Lack of formality in the scope definition process that often results in vagueness and different people having different understandings of what is in and what is out of scope and/or vague and open-ended requirements. Individual requirements may never actually be vetted against the project’s overall objectives to ensure each requirement supports the project’s objective and has a reasonable Return on Investment (ROI).

Assuming effort estimates can be directly equated to elapsed task durations without any buffers or room for non-productive time is another big ticket item as are most of the processes associated with estimating and detailed planning. I could go on and on.

Yet, the solution is, at least in terms of the problems, relatively simple:

  1. First off the people assigned as project managers and key team members must be given an adequate time allowance to do so.
  2. Second, an organisation-wide framework and methodology for managing projects needs to be developed (and include project tools and templates), mandated and embraced by all.
  3. Finally the project manager and key project team members need to be trained in those most basic management practices of planning, organising, leading and controlling.

CALearning works with organisations in the Health and Allied Health sector to assist them to achieve all these actions so why not contact us now and we’ll tell you just how easy it is to ensure you run your projects successfully each and every time!

If you’d like to know more about our approach to ensuring project success then visit our website where you can see our 3-step model explained.

  1. Meere, M. (2015) The High Cost of Poor Project Performance. www.calearning.com.au []
  2. http://calleam.com/WTPF/?page_id=2338 []
  3. Ibid. []
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