IT Project Failure isn’t an Option; it’s Business as Usual

If you have been in IT for any length of time you have been involved in some failed projects. But have you thought much about the overall cost of IT project failure to your organization? Or how about extrapolating that cost to IT globally? Would it surprise you that the money wasted each year could be enough to buy every single person on the planet a new iPad?*

Recently I discovered Michael Krigsman’s IT Project Failures Blog. Reading it made me realize how few people really talk about project failure as a major problem that affects IT’s credibility and cost. In a recent post he cites estimates that the global cost of IT failure is around $3 Trillion dollars. Even if this number is too high by half (and I don’t think it is), it is a staggering amount; worthy of much more attention than it receives.

Every IT department I’ve ever seen is trying to do more with less and improve their reputations.  So why do so many of them leave money on the table by not addressing project failure head-on?

I recently had a chance to speak with Michael about this topic and he pointed out that “It’s very easy to point the finger at project management…it is much easier to blame the project manager than to go upstream and ask why we were doing the project in the first place”. This rang true with my own experience – the biggest project failures I’ve seen are ones that meet the classic criteria for project success yet end up as not providing the expected value because they were ill-conceived from the get-go.

I’ve come up with four project pit-falls to look out for:

1) Bogus ROI Numbers – you often see these big, round, ROI numbers as projects are being proposed. Where did they come from? How were they calculated? Do they pass a “smell test”? Is there follow-up to see if the ROI target was achieved? If so, what happens if the target is badly missed?

2) Letting a project fail is politically safer than standing up and saying it’s headed for failure – You can often smell the stench of an ill-conceived project from a mile away, but in most organizations it isn’t accepted, much less encouraged, to call a time-out. Meeting the project schedule takes precedence over doing the right thing for the company.

3) IT is making too many of the decisions in a vacuum – Business leaders and users need to be involved in defining requirements and prioritizing almost all IT projects. Or as Krigsman put it “Do we know why we are doing the project? Did we invent it or did we engage with the users?”

4) Failed Projects are swept under the rug – When was the last time you saw an IT exec stand up in front of the room and talk about why a project failed and how to keep it from happening again? Failed projects tend to just fade away simply because it is “difficult to talk about failure or be associated with a failed project.”

Avoiding project failure requires all IT staff, but especially IT leadership, to exercise discipline, accountability, and good stewardship of company resources. All those things are much harder than simply replacing the Project Manager.

Do you have any project failure horror stories? We’d love to hear from you and get your feedback on why this important topic is often overlooked. We look forward to your comments.
*3 Trillion dollars ÷ 6.8 Billion people = $441 each; iPad 2 is currently $399, but I’m pretty sure I can get us a volume discount so we can all get the new one!
Jason Druebert Consulting Solutions Senior IT Service Management Consultant AT&T About Jason