• Question: Do you sometimes need to cancel a project because it is getting to complex or to expencive

    Asked by MattiE on 3 Jun 2020.
    • Photo: Conor Tickner

      Conor Tickner answered on 3 Jun 2020: last edited 3 Jun 2020 3:27 pm


      This is one of the big challenges with engineering works, which is keeping track of costs, programme (i.e. timing) and technical challenges.There aren’t many problems that could arise that can’t be solved if you throw enough money at it, so normally the cost is what gets a project cancelled.

      Usually we will break down projects into every constituent part, and keep track of how much time and resources we plan to spend and actually spend doing each one, and how much resource and time will be needed to complete the next project parts. That way if we overspend, or notice a future problem, we can identify it as quickly as possible and try to remedy it. If it can’t be remedied with simple actions, perhaps if it’s because we made a mistake and had to redo some work, then we as an engineering company will have to bear the cost of that, but other times we may be able to ask our clients for more fees.

      Who bears the cost is important legal topic, and depends on the defined scope of works and contractual terms. So while that kind of stuff may seem boring, it can be extremely important to operating a business successfully.

    • Photo: Sophie Louth

      Sophie Louth answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Hi MattiE, I actually lost my job at my last place because the company decided that the project I was working on was taking too long to work and therefor might not be profitable, so they scrapped it, and unfortunately for me that meant I lost my job too. Luckily for me I found another job and I am enjoying it a lot.

    • Photo: Brian Buckman

      Brian Buckman answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      I have never been working on a project that was cancelled simply because it was too complex. Projects get cancelled when the benefits to the organisation outweigh the costs. Complexity plays its part in the decision to cancel a project. Possibly the cost or the time needed to complete the project makes it not sensible to continue. It is one of the Project Manager’s jobs to monitor expenditure and schedule and to warn their bosses that the project may no longer make sense. Unfortunately, too many projects are allowed to continue, long after it should have been noticed that the whole reason for doing it in the first place has disappeared. It often surprises me how often I discover that the people who decided to start the project, don’t really know why they want it done.

    • Photo: Ken Mollison

      Ken Mollison answered on 3 Jun 2020: last edited 3 Jun 2020 3:45 pm


      Before a project is started we are always very careful to look at the costs of all the parts, how difficult or easy it is, check on how many people will be required and for how long and confirm all the details with our customers. During the project the project managers and accountants watch how the money is spent and Engineers make sure that the technical work is always in control. In this way each team makes sure the project is not put in jeopardy. To answer your question though I have not been in a project that was cancelled once it had started. I have however been part of a few studies which did not become projects for various reasons.

    • Photo: Tom Stewart-Brackenridge

      Tom Stewart-Brackenridge answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Yes, sometimes. It depends on the circumstances. I have worked on projects in the past that have had to be put on hold until the client can find the funding to continue the project or to reduce the amount of work required but still achieve the finished result/product the customer requires. Each persons circumstances are different and it also depends on the field you work in.

    • Photo: Neil Runciman

      Neil Runciman answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Rarely do projects get canceled because they are too complex. However, if the costs rise and outweigh the benefits or the benefits decrease in value and are outweighed by the costs, then projects do get canceled.
      Often it is the time taken to complete activities that take longer than estimated in complex projects, and/or projects with activities that have not been attempted before, which drives the costs upwards and kills the project.

    • Photo: Jeni Spragg

      Jeni Spragg answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Great question – you have to be very strategic when you look at big projects, to hopefully avoid a situation where you cancel a project after spending lots of money on it. It can be important for engineers to work with others, such as financial experts and managers, to understand the costs of projects as well as the technology. Some people specialise in project management, or project engineering, and they are good at thinking about projects in a strategic way.

      For example, you might start with a feasibility analysis, with basic calculations, to figure out if it’s worth doing at all. Then you might invest a bit more time & money in more detailed design work. There could be important decision points along the way, that help you figure out where to focus your attention next & if the project still makes sense.

    • Photo: Gillian Steele

      Gillian Steele answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Yes, sometimes projects are cancelled or postponed for many different reasons including costs or complexity. It is usually up to our clients if a project is cancelled or not though.

    • Photo: Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla

      Juan Carlos Fallas-Chinchilla answered on 3 Jun 2020:


      Sometimes projects become too expensive to keep running. There is a plane which is very expensive to run, sales weren’t great and cannot land in any airport. This plane stopped being manufactured and has been decommissioned now and lots of studies and parallel projects about its performance, component manufacturing and safety also came to an end.

    • Photo: Martin McKie

      Martin McKie answered on 4 Jun 2020:


      In the automotive industry especially in times like these or when there is a global recession. People stop spending money .i.e. and potentially stop purchasing cars. This is sometimes when projects might be cancelled or put on hold so that money can be spent else where, were it is more required

    • Photo: Martin McGuinness

      Martin McGuinness answered on 4 Jun 2020:


      The main challenge but also the main benefit as engineers is to work on a complex project and using your skills and knowledge along with your skills and knowledge find a solution to a complex project while ensuring that the project costs do not spiral out of control. Also before getting into the thick of any project there will feasibility studies performed to ensure that the project can be done and that it is practical and economical to do so.

    • Photo: Matthew Burgess

      Matthew Burgess answered on 4 Jun 2020:


      It’s never been my call to make a decision like that, but I have been around a project that was cancelled or postponed because it was getting very expensive and there were a lot of issues arising. It’s definitely something that happens, which is why good planning from the beginning is very important.

    • Photo: Katie Sparks

      Katie Sparks answered on 4 Jun 2020:


      For a lot of engineering projects there is a short phase called a “feasibility study”. This is where we look at the engineering challenge, try and work out where the big problems might be, how much things could cost, how much time we need to make the thing, who we work with and is there a risk there (e.g. could the company go bust?), that type of thing.
      From there, sometimes the projects don’t go ahead, because it’s too complicated or expensive. Sometimes we don’t know enough and we’ll look at things again in 10 years’ time, as it might be possible then.

    • Photo: Asha Panchal

      Asha Panchal answered on 4 Jun 2020:


      Hi MattiE,
      In my field of work projects have often been pushed back because there is not enough money or priorities change. Similarly, projects have also been cancelled, even after a lot of time and effort has gone into preparing the design. It is unfortunate but that is the nature of the industry, but there is always something that needs building or refurbishing.

    • Photo: Isabel Vidal

      Isabel Vidal answered on 5 Jun 2020:


      Yes. That sometimes happens!

      Costs and difficulty are usually related. If a project is very complex it is probably going to be very expensive. The work of an engineer in this case is to find the solutions where costs and technical difficulty are well controlled so that problems can be avoided in the future.

      But cancelation of project can be for be different reasons, not only cost.

      If the project requires a lot of construction, it could damage the environment very badly, and at some point it could get just cancelled because of that. Or, for example, the council in your neighbourhood wants to build a huge parking for cars in the town centre. They show pictures to people that live there to see whether they like it or not, and if they don’t like it the project could be cancelled before going any further.

    • Photo: Melissa Beattie

      Melissa Beattie answered on 5 Jun 2020:


      It’s not often that the projects I work on will get completely cancelled because it’s too complex or expensive, although it can happen.

      Sometimes they will get postponed if they are too expensive or the client will decide to split it up into different works packages and spread them out over different years. In structure’s maintenance, often the longer you leave some projects the more expensive they can end up being later on (as well as the more hazardous and complex) so it’s usually a good idea for the most essential parts to at least get done as soon as possible. In all projects though, the project manager should monitor how much is being spent compared to initial estimates to try to avoid costs spiralling out of control.

      There are other reasons that projects can be cancelled or postponed though. These can include: other projects being a higher priority usually because they can cause a hazard; environmental issues (protected species, materials and many more); complaints from people (local residents and others); other projects nearby and various other reasons or combination of reasons. Engineers usually have to weigh up the benefits of the project versus time and cost to justify it to clients and other stakeholders as well.

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