Making IT Projects a Success - 1

In this four part series, I would like to take you through some real reasons for IT Project failure and suggest possible way to succeed. A good way for us to start is by understanding that it is not really an IT Project that we work on but a Business Project enabled by IT. Understanding this helps us to remember that the true purpose of our IT Projects is to help the Business attain a strategic advantage over its competitors and/or to simplify Business processes, increase productivity and ensure effectiveness.


The Standish group report published in 2012 states that only 39% of projects succeeded (delivered on time, on budget with required features & functions), 43% were challenged (late, over budget and/or with less than the required features and functions) and

To pictorially highlight the problems in today’s Project Management world, take into consideration the below image:


Following are some of my insights as to why IT Projects fails and what we can possibly do:
1) Improper scoping of project and scope creep – There are a number of reasons why projects are improperly scoped and scope creep takes place. Here are ten of them:
1.not clearly stating the project objective.
2.not performing a thorough requirement analysis.
3.not identifying key users & attaining sufficient inputs from them.
4.the client not properly grasping the technicalities and the functional features of the proposed solution mostly due to insufficient briefing.
5.indecisive Project Stakeholders with differing priorities and hidden agendas.
6.Poor communication between all parties.
7.A poorly defined project scope in the initiation stage.
8.Underestimating the complexity of the project.
9.Gold plating through the belief that exceeding the scope of the project is adding value to the outcome.
10.Disingenuous customers expecting freebies towards the end of the project.
Hence, scope creep shows up in forms such as focus creep, feature and functionality creep among others.
Solution: For scope creep, consider the following:
1.Put in place a Project Charter that justifies the need for the project and clearly states its objectives taking into consideration the priorities of the Business and its Stakeholders.
2.Break the project scope into actual work requirements with a thorough work breakdown structure.
3.Identify major and minor milestones and put in place a detailed project plan.
4.Ensure all deliverables, features and functionality are understood and acknowledged by the key users. Additionally, get the technical specifications approved by the engineering team.
5.The Project Charter should be signed off by the sponsors and acknowledged by the other key stakeholders.
2) Absence of Change Management – Lack of Change Management procedures and failure to communicate necessary changes in a timely manner to the right people is another concern. “Nothing is Permanent but Change” is apt in the life cycle of a Project. Solution: Having a “Change of Work Order Form” in place which details the impact of a change on the project in terms of Time, Labour and Cost (TLC)” is needed. Sometimes it is easier said than done as the assessments for some change requests could be rather difficult and would involve considerable TLC.
A challenge for the Project Manager would be to differentiate between scope changes that are necessary for the project’s success & those that are detrimental to it.


3) Length and Complexity of a Project – The duration of a project can be of concern as change in an Organization’s direction as an outcome of the speed at which it conducts Business could lead to changing priorities.
Hence, the Project should have a short term objective and a long term goal. The mantra is to architect big but deliver in small manageable increments.


A recent example was the US Senate issuing a scathing report on how a billion dollar ERP implementation for the US Air Force failed and was terminated in a project that lasted 9 YEARS! In this digital age, no Organization has the luxury to take more than 18 to 24 months to implement and roll out a new technological solution but vendors will try their best to sell you long term projects.
Under-estimating the complexity of the project is another short coming.
For example, major software projects have a high degree of complexity due to a myriad of interfaces interacting with each other and due to the need for legacy processes to be replicated or supported by the new system. Such projects should be broken down into meaningful phases to achieve better results.
The Business requires IT to deliver projects in a reduced time span because of several market forces and also in trying to gain a competitive advantage. Hence, “Time to Market” is an essential factor that needs to be taken into consideration.
Standish group research indicates that smaller projects (agile or waterfall) have a much higher success rate (76%) than larger projects (10%). Research suggests that delivering products in small doses produces positive results.
4) An ineffective PMO – This is a very pertinent reason for an overall failure in the Project Portfolio. Some of the responsibilities of a Project Management Office include:
1.Having a Project Management Framework in place.
2.Assisting the CIO in selecting the right Portfolio of Projects by having in place an Acceptance/Gating approach.
3.Putting in place a large number of checkpoints to ensure projects are successful. Bring in lesson learnt from past projects.
4.Having a Project Manager (PM) and Project Team (PT) selection process. Ensure neither the PM nor the PT is over-worked. For example, when a PM is overloaded with multiple projects, the quality of work suffers as he spends less time to analyze various aspects of each project affecting their outcome.
5. Ensuring projects undergo the ITIL lifecycle of Change, Incident and others process.
6.Understand the organization’s IT policies, procedures and abide by its guidelines.
7.Have a Project Board meeting once a month with the participation of the CIO and review the status of the Project Portfolio.
8.Put in place Key Performance Indicators for the Project Team and steps to measure the outcome of the projects.
9.Periodically review the maturity of the Project Office for different Business Units.
10.Include a thorough audit of the Project Office and its function on a year basis among others.


Organization – They bring a unique set of challenges to the Project Office and given their numbers, managing them takes special effort.
Ten Ways in which an Organization contributes to the failure of a Project: 1. Business purpose of the project is not clearly stated and properly communicated to everyone in the organization to ensure their whole-hearted support.
2. Hidden agendas of key stakeholders are a concern. Strategic projects have multiple stakeholders, some with strong interests & opinions. The inability of all stakeholders to come to a common understanding and have shared expectations could lead to unresolved conflicts that could affect the overall outcome of a project. Politics and red tape are an outcome of this. A PM should ensure that a couple of meetings with all key stakeholders during the project initiation stage would iron out all such issues.
3.Lack of engagement from every level of the organization leads to insufficient requirement gathering. Identifying key personnel who can make the project a success is critical.
4.Insufficient input from end users could lead to a solution that can be barely used, leading to work around the inadequacies until further functionality is added.
5.Diminishing interest from Project Sponsors or the change of one during the life cycle of a project needs to be taken care of.
6.Lack of a Project Organizational Structure which defines roles and responsibilities of key contributors from different Business Units.
7.Culture of an Organization is an important consideration especially in projects where Business teams and Project members are geographically spread.
8.Resistance to change results in poor usage of systems. Users not only fail to adopt new technology but at the micro level refuse to accommodate new ways to perform their day to day tasks requesting for further customization of software resulting in scope creep.
9. Dis-agreement, misunderstandings and miscommunications takes place often. All meeting minutes during the life cycle of a project should be circulated to ensure that every participant is in sync and agreement to what was said, what was agreed and what will be done.
10.In a vendor environment, a lack of co-ordination and miscommunication between the Business Development Managers, Delivery Manager and the Engineering team leads to the sale of a solution to the customer that has not been properly vetted.


In Part 2 of the article, we will discuss the role and responsibilities of the Project Manager and the Project Team in making Projects a Success and how they affect the outcome of the Project.