The UK based IT Architect site is running a series of articles on why IT Projects fail.
(Part 1) suggests what is obvious (that there are different types of projects), but more usefully classifies them into two types. Type 1 are those that deliver concrete goods (like roads, bridges and office blocks). Type 2 are fuzzier projects aiming to change things, such as a process or organisational culture. It’s much harder to determine success in this second set, as they tend to deliver intangible results (i.e. you can’t drop them on your foot) . They also tend to suffer greater rates of failure. IT projects tend to be Type 2.
Some depressing statistics that if you’re lucky have only read about , or if you’re unlucky, know from personal experience. According to the Standish group, 31% of IT projects are cancelled outright, and over half have such serious performance issues that they were fortunate to escape the same fate. In contrast, a 3% overrun on a construction project is often the trigger for a public enquiry.
While there are many ‘excuses’ given for project failure, the author suggests that often the root cause is over-optimism and ‘biting off more than you can chew’. Symptoms of this over-optimism include projects started without any tolerances set, no change control and without proper reporting structures in place.
The 2nd Part of the article , is a bit more optimisitc, in that starts to tell you what you can do to improve the rates of project success. Broadly speaking , there are two areas suggested for this:
- Make Type 2 (IT) Projects more like Type 1 (Construction) – remove the fuzziness of success , so that you see the outputs of your project. This often comes down to metrics on the basis of ‘you get what you measure).
- Understand the level of success that you are aiming for. This can range from a simple level 1 (did the project do what was asked of it) , to Level 4 ( did the project have a positive impact on our business strategy). In between are Level 2 (Was this project success a once-off, or do *all* our projects suceed) and Level 3 (our projects may be successful, but are we working on the right ones).
For more details , here are links to part 1 and part 2 of the article.