Every year, the Project Management Institute (PMI) conducts a global survey of over 5,000 professionals who work in the project management space. The survey cuts across different regions and industries, and provides an excellent snapshot of project trends. I enjoy reading the Pulse insights, but I also pay close attention to the actual survey results.

And upon examining the survey results of the past few years, one trend is readily apparent: requirements are a huge challenge for anyone in project management (see title). The key survey question I’ve tracked is, “Of the projects started in your organization in the past 12 months that were deemed failures, what were the primary causes of those failures?” Here’s where requirements stack up for the last three years:

  • 2015 – 38% of survey responders selected “inaccurate requirements gathering” as a primary cause of project failure. That’s good for second place across all failure factors.
  • 2016 – 37% of responders selected requirements. Third place.
  • 2017 – 39% of responders selected requirements. Back up to second place.
  • 2018 – 35%. Falling four whole percentage points causes has dropped requirements back to third place.

As you can see, requirements have been a top three cause of project failure for the last four years in a row. What is being done to address this? Well, the PMI published a practice guide for requirements in 2016, which is free to download for PMI members. However, based on the data it’s not having much of an impact.

Beyond the PMI, there are some larger questions at play. It’s not just “what should the project management industry do about requirements,” but “why do requirements change so much?” “Are long projects less viable because of inevitable requirements problems?” “Are traditional methods (i.e. Waterfall) obsolete?”

I can’t say I have the answers, but I look forward to exploring these questions in the future.