Why 73% of Seismic Exploration Projects are a Failure?

In a perfect world every project would be completed “on time, within budget and according to specifications”. But reality (especially with proven statistics) tells a very different story. Various Research Institutions suggests that the vast majority of projects fail with a failure rate between 62 percent and 75 percent. One example is The Standish Group’s 1994 report that cited the success rate for that year was only 16.2 percent, improved in 1998 to 26 percent. This translates into an 84 percent and 74 percent failure rate respectively.

Gartner Inc., one of the world’s most respected market watchers concluded in recent research (2010) that 75 percent of all projects end in failure. They use the most restrictive definition, the industry-accepted, “project triangle, also often referred to as an iron triangle” that assesses projects within three critical parameters: Cost, Time and Quality.

The majority of respondents (those who are already implementing real-world project management practices) addressing a projects failure pointed to planning and methodology, unrealistic estimates, weak control mechanism, accidental project managers, formation of the wrong project team and poor practices as other major causes of failure.

So, how do seismic projects compare to these findings; Do they fall into these pointed failures? Can we identify the causes of seismic projects failures? Can we really do better? YES. Are we willing to implement modern and proven project management methodology (processes) to manage our projects successfully, or continue to do things the same old way? If “YES”, then a small change must be implemented in managing our seismic projects. If “NO”, then we are facing fierce competition from those who change and will eventually be pushed out of the way.  

But to answer the above question(s) and reverse the failure trend to success we have to first realize the distinct difference between Project Management and Operations Management; project management differs in two significant ways. First, it focuses on a project with a finite life span, whereas permanent organizations expect to exist indefinitely. Second, projects frequently need resources on a part-time basis (sub-contractors), whereas permanent organizations try to utilize resources full-time (employees).

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Project Management deals with specific management processes of unique projects, which have a commence date, a number of tasks and a completion date. Planning, launching, executing and controlling are based on specific management processes, NOT ON MANAGEMENT PREROGATIVES. A Project Manager (a trained person in the Project Management Discipline) would typically oversee the delivering of projects on time, on budget and according to specifications and therefore ensuring client satisfaction. Every seismic project (any project for that matter of fact) is unique; that is:

The project has never happened before and will never happen again under the same conditions...

Project Management is a specific management process

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Operations Management refers to the ongoing and routine management of daily company business, such as data acquisition, mapping, approvals, safety, etc., or a combination of all. With Operations Management, there is no set end point. An Operations Manager would typically be involved in all operations of a company, ensuring that everything is running smoothly and that staff is delivering correctly.

Operations Management also refers to the administration of business practices to create the highest level of efficiency possible within an organization. Operation management is concerned with converting materials and labour into goods and services as efficiently as possible to maximize the profit of an organization.

Managing seismic projects using OTHER than a SPECIFIC PROJECT MANAGEMENT PROCESSES is precisely WHY OUR SEISMIC PROJECTS HAVE A FAILURE RATE of 73 percent.

Analysis of a seismic projects failure is directly linked to two major areas:

1. Inadequate Project Management Processes
2. Accidental Project Managers

Most Prime Contractors run projects relying on their operations managers and the seismic experience of their supervisors (accidental project managers) and it’s no surprise that 98% of them have no formal training in the Project Management Discipline. For most of them Project Management is often seen as an unnecessary element and something that can be achieved just by monitoring the projects budget.

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Whether a project is a success or a failure is decided by the energy company. It is the job of the project manager to demonstrate that the deliverables met energy company needs.

Benefits of Project Management Best Practices.

The benefit of Project Management is enormous. It can be applied to almost every conceivable area, from clinical research to social housing, from business transformation to construction and from oil and gas exploration (on shore, off-shore) to product development. There really is no field where Project Management is not required and where benefits are not felt.

The key to a successful project is in the planning. The planning should be done by a person with formal training in the Project Management Discipline who also has seismic experience. Good project managers are worth their weight in gold these days. Time spent in developing a detailed project plan, is not a cost, it is CHEAP INSURANCE towards a projects successful completion.

The following links are intended to give you a better understanding of what  project management is all about and help you decide if these small changes in your managing process are beneficial for your organization, but most importantly to the project requestor:

What is Project Management,  Project Manager, Project Triangle
Inadequate Project Management Processes
Accidental Project Managers
Assumed percent complete (What is wrong?)
What is Earned Value Management (EVM)
Managing seismic projects without EVM
Managing seismic projects with EVM
Predicting project outcome with only 15%  project progress with 90% to 95% accuracy (actual case)
Analysis of seismic project failures
What is the Cost Performance Index (CPI)
Rating of previous workshops
Workshop Topics



A Unique Three-Day Workshops

that takes the mystery out of successful project management ...

Workshop Schedules

We are experts in the Project Management Discipline with 35 plus years of experience in seismic exploration. Our strong knowledge of Project Management combined with experience in the seismic industry enables us to effectively transfer our knowledge to those organizations and individuals who are interested reversing failure trends to success. While project management principals are same for any industry, our Project Management Workshops are designed to address the issues typical for seismic exploration. By attending our workshops your accidental project managers will become real-world project managers. After completion of the workshop they will have a solid foundation in the knowledge and skills required to successfully complete any seismic project.

The workshops (duration 3 days) are limited to 8 participants in the classroom and usually run after spring break-up and before the winter season. A special arrangement is available for companies interested in hosting the workshops for their employees (supervisors). There is no limitation on number of participants and can be presented at your convenience.

Need more information? Click here

Ivan Gontko, P.Eng.
Practicing Project Manager/PM Workshops Instructor


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Managing seismic projects better or the same old way?

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