It’s a sad reality that many IT projects fail to achieve their objectives. A survey published in the Harvard Business Review found that the average IT project overran its budget by 27%. Moreover, at least one in six IT projects turns into a ‘black swan’, with a cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%.¹
For the team here at Brennan IT, where we pride ourselves on the highly successful delivery of every IT project, these statistics can be hard to believe. However, it’s not uncommon for us to be approached by clients whose projects have failed and who are looking for a resolution to a botched or poorly configured implementation.
So what exactly is a ‘failed’ project? What are the key reasons for this failure? And what can be done?
The definition of ‘failure’ will vary from business to business. Sometimes, a project can be thought of as a success, but isn’t really. This may occur if the project itself was poorly-defined, if there were no goals set to measure its success, or if the business’ stakeholders didn’t really know what they wanted in the first place.
Generally speaking, we define a ‘failed’ project as one that doesn’t achieve its intended (and clearly-defined) outcomes. Essentially, it’s one that affects ‘business as usual’, an organisation’s brand, or the customer/employee experience in a negative way.
There are also many reasons why a project can fail, and these will differ from business to business. In the majority of cases, it comes down to poor preparation in a project’s initial phases, and a failure to understand or mitigate potential risks.
Above all, it’s important to be aware of the potential trappings, and have a solid plan and process in place to ensure your project progresses smoothly. Given this, here are my top five tips for overcoming failure and ensuring that your next IT project is a resounding success.
1. Undertake detailed requirements gathering
Perhaps the biggest reason for a project failing is that it wasn’t scoped or planned well from the outset. It’s always good to start with the ‘why?’. Taking the time to understand your clients’ needs in granular detail, before commencing any planning – or certainly, any development, is a critical first step.
However, in many instances, IT projects can begin too soon, without sufficient understanding of the scope, budget, risks, and requirements.
For instance, a customer might decide to embark on an in-house IT project which involves migrating files from an on-premises server to a SharePoint environment. While the project may appear simple, it can be quite in-depth. There are security permissions to consider, and complex sub-folder hierarchies to replicate. Users need to be made aware of the migration and provided with training or information on how to use the new SharePoint site and all its new features to their advantage. Not to mention, these types of seemingly ‘easy’ projects are notorious for being the most disruptive to users across the business.
Without a proper plan in place, the IT team may take too many shortcuts, miss crucial preparation steps, or fail to conduct enough user testing. As such, employees can end up confused, work can slow down, and the entire process can cost far more time – and money – than it should.
2. Identify and address any potential risks
Another key reason for failure is when the stakeholders either fail to comprehend or significantly underestimate the risks associated with a project, and therefore don’t put necessary plans in place to mitigate or control these risks. Sometimes, these risks may not be obvious – or not at all understood – from the outset. They need to be uncovered as part of a thorough planning and investigation session.
While optimism is always important when it comes to IT projects, unaccounted-for risks have a habit of appearing when it’s too late for the business to consider an alternate approach. It’s wise to have a process in place that enables you to identify and resolve any risks as they occur, to ensure minimal disruption to the project’s deliverables.
3. Ensure stakeholder buy-in
Failing to get buy-in from a ‘buyers’ committee’, or a key group of stakeholders, from the outset can also come back to bite once a project is underway. A department leader that feels his or her team’s needs haven’t been accounted for can very quickly derail a broader initiative or pull their portion of funding.
Similarly, a group of users that aren’t consulted on a new piece of technology at the start may find that it doesn’t match their processes or needs, and therefore won’t use it – which can have far-reaching implications right across the business.
Creating a ‘pilot’ group of users across different job roles is always a good idea, as they can test real-world scenarios and give instant feedback to the project team, who can then review and make any relevant adjustments. Another positive is that these people can become advocates or change champions, helping others to adopt the new solution.
It’s also important to conduct collaborative workshops at the start of every project, so as to verify all of the requirements for each stakeholder and ensure they are across the proposed solution. You can then move into the more detailed aspects of the design – ensuring all documents are peer-reviewed, agreed and signed-off by relevant stakeholders at every step.
4. Poor change management
Interestingly, according to recent research, 70% of organisational change management process initiatives fail – largely due to employee resistance and lack of management support.²
This high failure rate is why change management needs to be taken seriously, and not left to chance. It should also be built into every project, no matter how minor.
If your end users simply refuse to adopt a new piece of technology, it can end up being completely redundant and a total waste of time and money. At the same time, quality change management can also maximise the success of a new initiative – ensuring that people use the new technology to its fullest.
Choosing a partner who offers a ‘train the trainer’ program will ensure you develop subject-matter experts within the client’s business. These experts can continue to provide guidance to other employees – ensuring the successful uptake of a new piece of technology once it’s fully implemented.
5. Lack of formal governance
This is perhaps one of the biggest contributors to project failure: the lack of a skilled and experienced project manager who can bring everyone together and keep everything on track.
A quality project manager should save your business money – not cost it. This person should be able to spot traps and mitigate them; provide a bridge between a project’s stakeholders, and those responsible for delivery; and ensure that everything is happening in accordance with the budget and the schedule.
Your technology partner should provide you with a highly skilled and accomplished project manager for each and every project.
This person should be able to manage the project from end-to-end, ensuring quality control, robust reporting and providing a clear handover of when the project has been delivered. They should also ensure that everyone is aligned regarding the scope and the outcomes, and identify all pre-requisites as early as possible, so everyone can hit the ground running.
Typically, a good indication that your project manager will lead you to success is if they use PRINCE2 methodology (Projects IN Controlled Environments). PRINCE2 is seen by most as the benchmark for running a project. By organising a project into logical steps, the PRINCE2 methodology demands that a robust, organised and controlled plan is in place before starting. It also maintains a solid structure throughout the project, to its conclusion while also allowing for agility, as and when needed.
ideally, at the completion of a project, your project manager should also provide you with a thorough handover of all project documentation and training, and ensure your internal team has the skills to perform any necessary maintenance on an ongoing basis.
Talk to us about your next project
If you are considering a new IT initiative, please get in touch with our team and request a complimentary workshop. We can help you understand your requirements and recommend the next steps that are right for your business.
- ¹ LinkedIn, Why do IT projects fail? [online]
- ² Workzone: 10 reasons the change management process fails