Poorly managed IT projects seem to be about as common in many companies as purloined food and other office refrigerator "issues." But how serious are these problems, really?
It's tough to say. It may be that anyone who has had a sandwich swiped or been asked to approve additional funds for a project gone awry tends to overestimate the seriousness of these problems. That could help explain why a study produced by three academics differs so dramatically from the Standish Group's Chaos Report, an oft-cited piece of research that suggested that three-quarters of IT projects were "challenged."
As ZDNet blogger Michael Krigsman writes, business professors Chris Sauer, Andrew Gemino and Blaize Homer Reich used different methodologies than the Standish Group, surveying project managers rather than executives and asking about the performance of only their most recent projects rather than multiple projects.
This may mean the Sauer/Gemino/Reich data -- which suggests that about a third of IT projects fail -- is more accurate, writes Krigsman, as "project managers typically have more detailed and specific project knowledge than do executives." Also, focusing only on recent projects "presumably reduc(es) the effect of poor memory on their finding."
While the Standish Group uses just three categories -- failed, challenged and successful -- to describe project performance, Sauer/Gemino/Reich employ five categories -- abandoned projects, budget challenged, schedule challenged, good performers and star performers. Again, Krigsman thinks this yields a more accurate picture.
Putting aside the differing numbers, Sauer/Gemino/Reich offer some insights that will doubtless ring true for IT professionals. In a nutshell, the odds of project failure increase with the number of changes in size, budget or scope, and with changes in key personnel (project managers and executive sponsors).
Ambitious-sized projects, moving targets, and managerial turnover present challenges for IT projects that stretch even experienced project managers and result in greater variances. Effective oversight of projects can help project managers respond to these challenges.
No matter which numbers they think are more accurate, IT pros should probably worry more about perceptions than reality. Whether influenced by the Standish Group statistics or their own experiences, an alarmingly high number of folks seem to accept IT project problems as "normal."
As vnunet.com reports, 43 percent of middle and senior IT managers surveyed by Dynamic Markets on behalf of Tata Consultancy Services say business executives expect problems with IT projects and have learned to live with them.
Among the most common problems mentioned by respondents: schedule overruns (62 percent), inflated budgets (49 percent) and higher than expected maintenance costs (47 percent). Another depressing stat: One in four of the respondents report difficulty in getting business users to adopt new systems.