Project Delays and Cost Overruns: Analysing Failure Factors and Navigating Effective Project Controls Solutions

Colin Manson
Dashboards & Reporting Digital Transformation project management
Project controls solutions - Proteus Project Software

The successful completion of a project on time and within budget is a pervasive challenge of project controls faced by project teams worldwide. Despite the advances in project management tools, project controls solutions, and methodologies, statistics show that 72.5% of project managers fail to consistently meet the agreed project schedule, and over half (58.7%) do not stay within the agreed budget. This paper investigates the key problems causing these high rates of project failure: difficulty in accessing accurate project data, inability to utilise project data to improve project performance, the lack of integrated systems and tools, and the issue of spreadsheets. This paper further explores the potential solutions to these issues, before looking to the needs of the project manager over the next twelve months. 

Introduction & Methodology

Project management and control is an essential function across diverse industries, where the goal is to achieve specific objectives within a defined timeframe and budget. However, projects often fail to meet these expectations. The common issues leading to such failures are not only related to technical or financial aspects, but also to the management of project data and the availability of effective project controls solutions and systems. Lastly, this paper focuses on the issue of spreadsheets and their impact on project controls. This paper aims to delve into these problems and provide practical solutions, ultimately guiding project managers towards improved project execution.

The methodology for this research was conducted through a structured digital survey utilising Google Forms, chosen for its ease of use, accessibility, and the ability to maintain respondent anonymity. The target population consisted of professionals in project management and engineering fields. The survey was shared between May 1st – May 6th, 2023, through two primary channels: direct email to the Proteus database and via LinkedIn posts to Proteus followers, which were both selected to reach the targeted audience. We received a total of 103 responses, which were considered adequate to provide a representative sample for analysis. To encourage participation, respondents were incentivised with a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card upon completion of the survey. This incentive was disclosed upfront to all potential participants. It is important to note that all survey results were anonymised prior to analysis, ensuring the privacy of the respondents and the impartiality of the study. The final data was then examined and interpreted in accordance with the research objectives. All statistical data and insights in this paper are taken from this survey.

Problem 1: Project Managers Face Difficulty Accessing Accurate Project Data

The inability to access accurate and timely project data significantly impedes a project manager’s ability to make informed decisions. Over 90% of survey respondents reported that they had difficulty accessing project data. This is despite one in three stating that real-time data, monitoring and forecasting, and dashboards are critical to project controls. In an environment where decisions are based on partial or outdated data, there is an increased risk of project delays, cost overruns, and failure to meet project objectives. Data inaccuracies can stem from various sources, including manual data entry errors, inconsistent data collection methods, and outdated data due to a lack of real-time updates.


Implementing a robust data management system can help ensure the availability of accurate, timely, and consistent project data. This system should automate data collection and updates, reducing the potential for human errors. Moreover, adopting a unified data standard across each project with clear and easy to understand reports and dashboards will promote data consistency, making it easier to compare and analyse different data sets.

Problem 2: Project Managers Struggle to Utilise Project Data to Improve Project Performance

Even when accurate project data is available, project managers often struggle to translate this data into actionable insights. 95% of survey respondents stated that they fail to use project data to improve performance, however, 64% reported that the planning and forecasting stages are most important when it comes to project controls. Given the immense challenges faced by project teams, it is unsurprising that only one in ten flagged evaluating post-project performance as a critical factor to project controls. Lack of data when planning a project and lack of analysis during projects means teams might fail to identify critical patterns or trends that could signal potential issues or opportunities for improvement.


The use of data analytics software and tools can help project managers effectively analyse and interpret project data. Firstly, by ensuring the accuracy of project data, and secondly by displaying that data in a format that is easy to understand and report. Project data, when effectively utilised, can provide predictive insights, enabling project managers to anticipate potential delays or cost overruns and take proactive measures. Additionally, project software gives multiple project stakeholders full visibility into the project’s success and trajectory. 

Problem 3: Lack of Joined-up Systems and Tools Impede Project Delivery

The lack of integrated systems and tools can lead to disjointed project management processes, making it challenging to maintain a comprehensive overview of the project. 90% of respondents cited a lack of joined-up systems and tools is an issue when working to deliver projects. This fragmentation can result in inefficient communication, data silos, incorrect reporting, and decreased productivity. Often, companies will look to cut corners on software implementation, after all, if it’s not (completely) broken, why fix it? Resulting in companies using ineffective systems and tools for project control. Ultimately, this approach is likely to cost more in the long run as projects fail to meet deadlines and budgets. 


The adoption of integrated project management software can provide a unified platform for all project-related activities, improving communication and collaboration among team members. Such software can also break down data silos by centralising all project data, and maintaining its accuracy, making it readily accessible for analysis and decision-making.

Problem 4: Spreadsheets weren’t built to be the default project management tool for teams

When it comes to project management and control, Microsoft’s Excel gets a bad rap. While spreadsheets have proven themselves to be highly versatile, achieving tasks above and beyond their original purpose, they are stretched to their limits when it comes to project management and control. There are numerous reasons why Excel is not fit for purpose, including data corruption, incorrect formulas, version tracking, access, human error, lack of visibility and collaboration, time-consuming, manual reporting, lack of flexibility, limited insights… and many, many more. Why companies insist on defaulting to spreadsheets impedes project control, and helps to guarantee projects will be late and over budget. 


Utilising the right software is imperative to project success. Project management tools, such as Proteus, have been developed specifically for the purpose of managing projects, while spreadsheets’ limitations have become increasingly evident in today’s dynamic working environment. Project management software provides control, consistency, visibility, and accuracy allowing you to adapt and evolve the project’s trajectory using flexible, automated features. Project management software addresses the shortcomings of spreadsheets, through a range of features from providing sophisticated in-depth reporting and insights capabilities, showing a clear overview of project progress, to assessing proposal viability and predicting accurate project timelines and profits. Ultimately, dedicated project management software gives project teams superior project control unmatched by spreadsheets.

Looking to the Future – What Do Project Managers Want?

In the final survey question, we asked respondents ‘What project management innovation is your company most interested in over the next twelve months?’. Unsurprisingly, ‘Standardisation of Processes and Systems’ came out on top, with 72.9% of respondents flagging this critical need for project control. ‘Data-Driven Project Management’ was flagged as a key focus for one in ten project managers over the next twelve months. Lastly, likely spurred by the promise of increased efficiency and automation of repetitive tasks, ‘Artificial Intelligence and Automation’ was the third most important factor, with 9.3% expressing interest in this area. 

Summary and Conclusion

The failure of projects to meet their schedules and budgets can be largely attributed to issues related to project data management and the lack of effective tools and systems. Addressing these problems requires a multifaceted approach that includes the implementation of robust data management software and systems, the use of data analytics tools, the removal of archaic systems and software not fit for purpose, and the adoption of integrated project management software.

The role of the project team is undoubtedly challenging, but by acknowledging and addressing these issues, they can significantly improve their chances of delivering successful projects. As the business environment continues to evolve, project managers must also adapt, leveraging data and technology to overcome challenges and drive project success.

Project Controls in Proteus

Proteus is a low-cost feature-rich project management solution that is designed to meet project controls needs demanded by complex projects, global teams, and ambitious targets, by transforming the way teams manage projects. Proteus has hundreds of automated processes, features, and tools, as well as bespoke options. This allows project teams to adapt Proteus to suit their workflows while reducing wasted resources on repetitive or low-value tasks. Projects can be set up in Proteus quickly and seamlessly, giving teams a reliable source of data and information on their project, and ultimate project control. The software allows project teams to develop accurate bids, easily convert them into fully working project plans, and then utilise Proteus’ industry-leading tools and features to accurately manage and control those projects. This enables teams to work with accurate, centralised data enabling them to review project performance in real-time. These project controls allow project teams to accurately make project forecasts, calculate earned value, assess project performance, as well as manage people, resources, and budget, and track and monitor every aspect of a project.

Author Profile

Colin Manson is co-founder and CEO of Xergy Group, who develop the SaaS solution, Proteus – a software that enables project teams to deliver end to end projects, from proposal management to performance review. Colin is a seasoned engineer and project management stalwart, completing his degree in Engineering in 1989 from Heriot-Watt. In 2005, Colin co-founded international consultancy Xodus Group. While at Xodus, Colin spearheaded its impressive growth to 750 staff over 14 offices in 8 countries. In 2018, Colin co-founded Proteus with the objective to transform the way companies bid, manage and deliver projects. Colin is an advocate of digital transformation, end to end project controls, and ultimately, project success.

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