Why IT Projects Fail

Over the past couple of decades that I’ve been delivering technology focused consulting engagements, there have unfortunately been many times when I’ve been engaged by clients to rescue their failed projects – which is always a character building experience 😦 In this post, I will outline the 5 main reasons I’ve seen projects fail :-

1. Not Using A Method

This is the #1 reason I’ve seen projects fail – the idea that you can ‘just make it up’ as you try to design and deploy an often technically complex solution into an organisation’s production environment is plain crazy. For those who follow me on LinkedIn and other platforms, you will see that I always recommend having an approach to the delivery of any project, there are many frameworks available, the one I’ve used most often is TOGAF which is highly customisable and easy to understand.

2. Poor Requirements / Not Delivering What The Business Needs

A recipe for disaster is the IT department just running a project to deploy the latest / greatest technical solution – with no business need or requirements. Each project is about delivering business outcomes, a concept many ‘techies’ find hard to understand – In the past I’ve had to stop a failed project and go back to assessing business strategy and objectives, in order that the project can be re-shaped to fit the need. A big lesson for any organisation setting out on ‘journey to the cloud’ or ‘digital transformation’ or any other technology project = Understand the business strategy and how your project adds value to the business.

3. Unrealistic Estimates, Goals & Expectations

As we all know, time is money and I’ve see many project’s make unrealistic estimates and/or set expectations that have no basis for success, typically based on a limited financial budget, no method, lack of skills to do the scoping / estimation work – or many / all of these, which in itself is a red flag – if you use a method, understand the business needs and go through a requirements / scoping exercise – ensure you are clear about how to define project goals, estimate timescales and set reasonable expectations – the Project Management Institute (PMI) is a rich source of information, you get the right shape / size of project, with defined outcomes for the business that can be costed – its then a financial decision about cost vs value to ultimately decide if the project goes ahead.

4. Poor Leadership / Project Management

When creating this blog post, I considered this reason being in my top 2, be in no doubt that the quality of the people leading and managing the project and senior management commitment to having the right leaders is a top factor in overall success – I’m a fan of Boston Consulting and in the past I’ve used a technique developed by a few of their partners called DICE. It’s a framework to assess likely success of a project based on objective measures, one of which is Commitment (senior management buy-in to the project and resourcing it), most of the failed project’s I’ve rescued fail here and its been at times an awkward discussion to address this and place the project on the path to recovery. Finding the right people (and ultimately person) to provide leadership for the project is hard, which is why I’ve see so many failures – the typical mantra has been to ‘use who we have’ and less about ‘what do we need’ and ‘where do we get the experience and track record’ to ensure success. Never shy away from having the right person who has the track record and credentials.

5. Lack Of Skills

Modern technology solutions are often complex in nature, however much the technology vendors seem to spend on making them easier to understand and consume. A factor across all the failed projects I’ve ever see is a lack of skills within the team tasked with delivering the project – which always leaves me with lots of head scratching… would you expect an operation in hospital to be carried out by a non qualified surgeon ? (I hope the answer = NO 😉 ), so why would you have unqualified people touch your IT infrastructure on which your business runs ? Use a method, understand your architecture decisions and make sure through strong project leadership that you staff the project with qualified skills.

I hope you will find value in this post if you are about to start a new IT project, one of my mantra’s has always been the “5 P’s” – Planning and Preparation Prevent Poor Performance 😉

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