I did a scan around the web to figure out what many of the leading thinkers were saying about IT project failure and the root causes. Numbers varied between 20% and 80% of projects failing to deliver on their business case. The root cause analysis that follows from these failure numbers spends a lot of time looking at the IT project, but most forget to look at the causes of failure that are outside the project’s control.
In the diagram below, the central blue box represents causes of IT project failure that are inside the control of the IT team. As you can see, there are many more causes of IT project failure that are OUTSIDE that blue box than inside it. Yet, countless articles have been written on the factors INSIDE the box. I think it is time we take a slightly wider lens to the problem!
The factors outside the project are as important, or more important, than the ones inside the box. I have worked on many projects over the years, and if I look back at the ones that ended up cancelled or scrapped, the reasons were not ones in the blue box. They were usually ones from the top box: where the project should not have begun in the way that it did. Let’s look at these six factors:
Each of these conditions has the potential to kill an IT project. I would suggest that MANY IF NOT MOST of the failures of IT projects can be traced to one or more of these conditions, but these conditions rarely get counted in the statistics for “Causes of IT Project Failure.” Why? Because, in most cases, projects that suffer from these conditions are either never funded, or are reworked so that the political problem is simply avoided. The project business case does not reflect the problem, so the criteria for failure (doesn’t meet the business case) is never met. Efforts are made to avoid (but not address) the problem before the business case is written!
This is the world of the Enterprise Architect. These are the kinds of “failure” that fill the eyes and ears of an Enterprise Architect. If an EA focuses on only these six causes, he or she will deliver real, tangible, and unique value to their enterprise without ever overlapping the roles and responsibilities of an IT architect, business analyst, or technologist.
The problem is already in the first sentence when you talk about "IT Projects". There are no IT projects, only business projects that use IT. As long as project managers maintain the view of "IT Projects" they will continue to overlook all the failure root causes you have listed.
Many of these causes seem to apply to EA as well. What do you think?
Just saw this related article on large project failure in the u.s. Military. www.post-gazette.com/.../billion-dollar-flop-air-force-stumbles-on-software-plan-665500
This is a really interesting article, thanks for sharing. You raise some interesting points. One item you haven't covered is that many organizations will simply "do the wrong thing" in the first place. Sponsors, stakeholders and organizations get blinded by the "Solution Illusion". They see a solution they love, and then try to shoe-horn it into their organization.
Successful projects start with a thorough and robust understanding of the problem domain. And they also start with a completely *technically agnostic* view of what the solution might be. Yes, the solution *might* involve IT -- but there are many other ways of solving problems. Process change, organizational change, outsourcing etc.
To take an example from you article:
"The strategy is to make the sales force more productive by moving the company over to a new CRM system"
This is an example of a solution being mixed with a problem. The problem here seems to be "Make the sales force more productive" and the *assumed* solution is "move the company over to a new CRM system". I suspect that's not the only way! I worked with an organization that faced this very dilemma. There were reservations over how long it took sales users to update the system with notes, meetings etc, and there were questions over the usefulness of the data it was generating. Upon proper inspection, it was discovered that their existing CRM system had all the features and functions they needed. The issue was user buy in. The resolution? Buy the sales staff iPads. That way they can update and access the system easier from the road. This solution could only be formulated by understanding the business processes AND the environment in which the users actually had to work.
So -- in summary, I agree with the comment above "There is no such thing as an IT project" -- just business projects that implement, impact, change or interface with IT.
Thanks again for posting such a thought provoking article.
I agree Adrian. Good points
Your missing one block at the bottom though - one that states "All of the above"
You have done well to highlight the problems outside the blue box. But the problems have been highlighted in isolation. I can think of another vital factor is the interrelationship between each of these boxes. The relationship and collaboration between IT and management, IT and end-user, IT and supplier, all these are equally responsible for failure. In fact I see one of the most important roles of CEO is to ensure that the IT - User relationship is that of collaboration and not of confrontation. These are all people aspects and are dependent on attitudes, fears, misconceptions, beliefs, expectations and other people traits.
I therefore call it a special skill and have coined a term called "Behavioral IT" to describe this. It deals with the human aspects of IT failures. (Pls see http://prem.cu.cc/behavioralit and http://prem.cu.cc/seminar, or google on 'Behavioral IT').
I assume that the last comment was made by Prem U. Kamble since the links were to Prem's pages.
I would agree that there are relationships between the items. The diagram above is a taxonomy, not a model of relationships. First things first. If we agree on the distinct causes, we can compose models that represent the groupings and interdependencies that drive specific situations for specific organizations. This blog post represents step one, not step two.
I disagree with the word "equally" in following statement: "The relationship and collaboration between IT and Management, IT and end-user, IT and supplier, all these are equally responsible for failure." Nonsense. Some organizations will have excellent relationships in one area, and crappy relationships in another. Where the crappy relationships exist, larger opportunities for failure exist. I agree that a good generalization is that, INDUSTRY WIDE, one could collect a count of failures by cause and they would break out in fairly predictable ways. That said, they would not, even in that case, break out to be 33% each. The three groupings that you mention are not equal causes for IT project failure.
It's good to see that you've coined a term called "Behavioral IT." Not sure we needed a new term for that... I would have called it "delivery management" or perhaps more specifically "change management," but what the heck... we are never short of new names for existing things in this business :-).
You will find a good section in the IIBA BABOK (chapter 7) that covers some of these aspects of delivery readiness. You will also find discussions of delivery management in other (somewhat overlapping) bodies of knowledge. There are probably 200 books on the topic of successful readiness and deployment strategies.
I'm sure that your work is unique and valuable. However, the language is different and you may not be using the same techniques as your audience is. You may want to familiarize yourself with that literature in order to make your work more accessible to your core audience.