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Failed projects and the lessons learned – 2023

Not sure why project management is needed?

In this blog, we’ve uncovered some of the most famous failed projects throughout history and explore what we can learn from them today. 

Training ByteSize are a world leading training provider; we continually provide students with the most successful and experienced trainers so you’re always in the best position to pass first. Our pass rates and customer reviews are exceptional, so you can be assured of our experience, professionalism and long-standing success when it comes to our expertise on sharing our view of failed projects.

Sometimes, the most effective way of understanding the need for project management and the reason why it’s so important is to look at previous failed projects. What is project failure? It can mean many things, from cost and time overruns to scope creep and a failure to deliver a return on investment. We’ve uncovered some of the biggest project failures in history where governance was lacking which resulted in the inability to meet objectives and deliver what was planned. Read on for our top 8 high-profile failed projects and discover the lessons that we can learn from each of them.

1. Airbus A380

Failed projects, Airbus A380

In 2004, Airbus was all set to launch the biggest passenger plane in the skies. Parts were shipped from Toulouse to Hamburg for assemblage but it soon became apparent that none of the pieces actually fitted together. It was later learned that the designers were all using different CAD programs which resulted in different measurements. 

Lesson Learned: This highlights the importance of project management to keep everyone on the same page. Even across different time zones and borders, always ensure that the team is using the same programs and systems to get the task done.

2. Challenger Space Shuttle

Failed projects, Challenger Space Shuttle

This project failure had tragic consequences. On January 28 1986, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded just 76 seconds after it had launched due to a combination of a faulty seal on a rocket booster and cold weather. It was determined that human error was partly to blame.

 Lesson Learned: Human error can be greatly minimised by effective project management. The role of a project manager is to put systems in place to reduce the risk of human error impacting on projects, big or small.

3. World Athletics Championships 2019

In 2019, the best world athletes made their way to Doha to compete in the World Athletics Championships. Unfortunately, the host nation was unable to sell the majority of tickets so athletes were forced to compete in nearly-empty stadiums.

Lesson Learned: It doesn’t matter how much money you put into an event. If you don’t have a strong homegrown fan base, it will be very difficult to fill seats and create a memorable experience.

4. McDonald’s Arch Deluxe Burger

When McDonald’s launched a new ‘grown-up’ version of their iconic hamburger, called the Arch Deluxe Burger in 1996, it was discovered that customers weren’t interested in changing the original formula. McDonald’s put more than $150 million dollars into their ad campaign but the burger failed to gain popularity and was soon dropped.

 Lesson Learned: The biggest lesson learned here is to always let customer data drive product strategy. With the right project management, McDonald’s would have had a clearer idea of what its customers wanted. A great way to do this is to track selective key metrics and ensure your tools can accurately track the data in real time. Then, use the numbers to formulate your strategies.

5. Knight Capital

In 1985, Coca Cola launched a product called ‘New Coke’ which turned into a real fizzer with the public. Even though the new recipe went through a taste trial of 200,000 people, it turned out that fans of Coca Cola were too loyal to the original recipe to be enticed to drink a new one.

Lesson Learned: While Coca Cola did their market research and learned that customers were open to a new product, they failed to see their customer’s own motivations. More than a mere taste test was needed to understand how fans would feel when their beloved Coca Cola was suddenly replaced by a different product. It’s a reminder to treat project management as a science and an art that needs to be worked into the project accordingly.

Failed projects, Ford6. Ford Edsel

The Ford Edsel was a result of extensive research into what Ford consumers wanted in a car. The problem was that by the time the model was released, the market had already moved on to more compact cars and the Ford Edsel was already outdated. 

Lesson Learned: While project research is absolutely essential, it is only successful if used in a timely manner. This highlights the importance of being quick to market fresh ideas before the public moves on to the next trend.

7. The Garden Bridge

Failed projects, The Garden Bridge

The Garden Bridge has been dubbed a failed vanity project, pushed by Boris Johnson when her was the Mayor of London. The project cost £53m in total, despite never actually being built. According to a report, the bridge was over-optimistic both in terms of the fundraising possible and the final cost. This led to a shortfall which could never be overcome, despite surveying work on the riverbed already getting underway.

Lesson learned: Ambition is a powerful thing, but it needs to be grounded in reality, particularly when relying on fundraising to get projects off the ground. In retrospect, it would have been wise to establish if the project was feasible before spending £161,000 for a website.

8. The NHS’ Civilian IT Project

The project that aimed to revolutionise the NHS IT systems was a failure that cost the taxpayer somewhere in the region of £10bn. The politically-motivated and top-down nature of the project meant that scope creep and a complete underestimation of the requirements doomed this project from the start. The government was later criticised for its inability to handle large IT contracts.

Lesson learned: It’s important to consider the size and capabilities of your own organisation before taking on an ambitious project.

9. Sony Betamax

Failed projects, Sony BetamaxWhile physical media might seem like an archaic concept, there are still lessons to be learned from the battles that were fought in the 1970s. You might be surprised to learn that Sony only recently halted production of their Betamax tapes. Betamax lost the battle for our attention when VHS become ubiquitous in our homes. But for some unknown reason, Sony was still clinging on to hope until 2016.

Lesson learned: While Sony Betamax may have been first to market, the project failed because it didn’t innovate. In the face of a cheaper product (VHS) with a better marketing model, Sony stuck to their guns and lost market share as a result. 

10. Waterworld

The making of the movie Waterworld seemed doomed from the start. The director started shooting without finalising the script and multiple rewrites along the way resulted in production being extended from the scheduled 96 days into 150 days which pushed costs to $135 million dollars over budget.

Lesson Learned: Defining the scope of a project before it starts is crucial to preventing cost and time overruns. In the case of this movie, the script should have been signed off before production even began.

11. Pepsi Crystal

Failed projects, Pepsi CrystalWhen this clear version of Pepsi hit the shelves, the reception soon lost its fizz. Although customers were keen to try this new version of Pepsi, they soon abandoned it as it didn’t taste as they expected.

Pepsi’s COO at the time later admitted that he ignored reports from his team that Pepsi Crystal didn’t taste quite right, but he pushed ahead with production anyway.

Lesson learned: When you have a wealth of knowledge on your side, it makes sense to make the most of it. While taking every single piece of feedback on board might be impossible, there is a middle ground that stops you from missing important cues. 

12. Denver International Airport

Failed projects, Denver International AirportDenver International Airport wanted to create the most sophisticated luggage handling system in the world but it quickly became far too complex. The project was delayed for 16 months at a cost of $560 million and dropped altogether in 2005.
Lesson Learned: This is another case of defining the scope of a project before it begins. When ambition and excitement takes over, it becomes too easy to push ahead and ultimately derail the entire project.

Build your project management knowledge and avoid failed projects with Training ByteSize

At Training ByteSize, we aim to equip you with the skills you need to excel as a project manager and lead your team to success every time. We’re a world leading training provider with exceptional pass rates and the most experienced trainers to keep you a step ahead of the rest. Our popular PRINCE2 course teaches you how to pre-plan your project, structure each stage and close remaining tasks after completion. We also offer other in-demand courses for project management, including Agile PM, Agile BA, Change Management and APM. Take control today and give us a call to discuss your needs and discover the right training course to advance your skills and your career.

Avoid failed projects with project management training: APM Project Management Qualification

APM stands for the Association for Project Management. This term has become synonymous with professionalism and is well known throughout the UK and Europe. APM is an educational charity who is committed to developing and promoting the value of project management in order to deliver improved project outcomes for the benefit of society.

The Association for Project Management, Project Management Qualification (APM PMQ), is a project management qualification designed and developed to provide candidates with a conceptual understanding of project management.

The course is knowledge based and designed to enable candidates to feel comfortable involving themselves in projects of all sizes across a breadth of industries.

The APM PMQ is seen as an intermediate level project management qualification. It is recognised around the world for signifying a certain level of competence.

Our APM PMQ online learning package

We offer training for this internationally recognised life-long certification for just £599+vat, this includes 12 months access to our online learning platform, email support from our expert trainers and the accredited PMQ exam.

Our course has been expertly put together by our leading APM Trainer to ensure the most significant elements of the classroom course remain an important focus throughout the online learning.

At the end of each online session there is a thorough review within the workbook covering the main points as revision and added additional information which will also be of use to you.

As you work through the course there will be ‘Pauses for Thought’ allowing you to develop the ‘Thinking Process’ which is required for the PMQ examination.

You will be asked to consider topics, their importance and relationships with other elements of project management. We will encourage you to share and compare your thoughts with ours to sense check you are on the right track.

The course is intensive and there is roughly 40 hours learning to work through. Ultimately our APM PMQ online course is the ideal way for busy professionals to gain this much sought-after qualification.

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Knowing what the course looks like before you buy anything is a service we’re really proud to offer. Click here to see our APM PMQ online course demo.

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We’re always supporting our customers with fantastic offers to help ensure you can afford to train, so make sure you check out our offers page before you buy.

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We’re here for you at every stage of your project management career, so please take the opportunity to talk to us. You can use the chat function in the bottom right of your screen, email us at, or call us on +44 (0)1270 626330.

Avoid failed projects with project management training: PRINCE2 Foundation

PRINCE2 is widely considered to be the world’s leading project management method. There are now people qualified in PRINCE2 in most countries around the world, with many companies and government organisations using the method to deliver change and develop new products and services.

PRINCE2 is a structured approach to project management. It provides a really clear framework for managing projects in a results-driven environment.

The purpose of PRINCE2 is to give you complete control over your project. The process will help you pre-plan how you want to implement your project, how to structure each stage of its execution and how to close off any remaining tasks once the project has finished.

PRINCE2 has been designed to be generic so that it can be applied to any project regardless of project scale, type, organisation, geography or culture. It provides a tried and tested method from which many organisations can benefit.

Discover your PRINCE2 6th Edition certification with Training ByteSize

Here at Training ByteSize, we boast an incredible 96% first-time pass rate for our PRINCE2 Foundation exam.

Our online learning packages offer you a convenience that no other training option does; you can login to your dedicated portal and learn at a pace and time that suits you.

All our courses are engaging and interactive, with mock exam simulators and full support packages

They are accessible, flexible and efficient, allowing you to move quickly through topics you feel comfortable with and spend more time focusing those that need more time.

We have special offers on our PRINCE2 courses

Now more than ever, it’s so important to invest in yourself and ensure you stand out in the market. We’re committed to supporting you and other learners through the challenging times we’re all facing, so our courses are on special offer and start from just £249+vat for an all-inclusive learning package. 

PRINCE2® Foundation 6th Edition Course. For £249+vat our online learning package includes 3 months access to our exceptional online learning environment and the official accredited PRINCE2 Foundation exam.

PRINCE2® Practitioner 6th Edition Course. This Practitioner online learning package is priced at £399+vat and includes 3 months access to our excellent online learning environment, the handbook (worth £85) and official accredited exam.

PRINCE2® Foundation and Practitioner 6th Edition Course. For £599+vat you can access both learning packages, take both accredited PRINCE2 exams and we’ll send you the handbook.

PRINCE2 explained in 100 seconds flat!

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Discover the quality of our online learning with these free course demos of the PRINCE2 Foundation and PRINCE2 Practitioner.

PRINCE2 online courses are a great way to study and our e-learning system is interactive and engaging

Studying for your qualification online is a viable option for so many project managers:

  • Learning is completely flexible to suit your busy schedule
  • The interactive online course consists of voice-over and animation to keep you engaged throughout the learning
  • You can access it anywhere in the world and take your exam online at a time that suits you best
  • The e-learning will take around 10 hours to complete (depending on what you are studying) and includes a mock exam simulator with lots of past questions so you can really test yourself before going for the real exam
  • Our pass rates are well in excess of the national average (nearly 100%!), there is really no reason you should fail!

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