It's Tough to Stay Objective with IT Projects

Ann All

What causes IT project failure? Lots of things can play a part, including a lack of effective governance, poor communication between business and IT, and not enough input from the folks who will actually use a new system or technology.

I mentioned several other reasons in a blog post from December, including changes in project size, budget and scope. And of course, changes in key personnel such as project managers and executive sponsors don't help either.

A number of these factors are part of what Baseline dramatically refers to as "deadly project lust." In addition to the aforementioned reasons, the article throws in several others, including internal politics, love of technology that is cool though not necessarily useful, and not enough courage to kill projects that obviously need to be ended.

So what can companies do to improve the odds that their projects will succeed? The Baseline article offers a number of good suggestions. Among them:

  • Establish a formal project approval process.
  • Include an exploratory phase that should help uncover the uncertainties and unknowns that may not get addressed in initial discussions.
  • Regularly assess projects to ensure that they still satisfy business needs and are on their way to success. As part of these assessments, companies should find a business owner who can substantiate the value, suggests Mike Sisco, president of MDE Enterprises, an IT management and consulting company. He says: "If I can't find that, I'm going to cancel it, even if it's 60 percent done."

The article concludes with a caveat: Sometimes it's OK to start with a solution, and then find problems it can be used to solve. Says Tom DeMarco, a fellow with the Cutter Consortium:

The mechanism of seeing a new technology and then looking for a problem to solve with it is not generally a bad thing " it is the way we advance. If you stopped people from doing that, you would halt progress dead in its tracks.

Being attracted to technology for technology's sake is a sign that employees are aware of all the latest developments, at least some of which will likely be of use to the business, says Joel Spolsky, CEO of Fog Creek Software and author of the Joel on Software blog. Offering talented software developers enough freedom to experiment with emerging technologies also may help keep them on the job, adds Spolsky.

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