Why IT Projects fail – mastering the monster

The UK based IT Architect site is running a series of articles on why IT Projects fail.

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(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.
    http://www.itarchitect.co.uk/articles/display.asp?id=203
    http://www.itarchitect.co.uk/articles/display.asp?id=224

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