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4 Reasons That IT Projects Fail

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Project management wasn't created with IT in mind, which means that it's not always sufficient for dealing with IT projects.

I’m often puzzled by the fact that most IT departments do a very good job of the day-to-day things that we are asked to do. I mean, there is a lot that goes on in an IT department each and every day and somehow we seem to be able to get it all done. However, when it comes time to do a large IT project, for some mysterious reason, things seem to fall apart, which is odd considering the importance of information technology. All too often we don’t get the project done on time or on budget. Why do we have so many difficulties with these types of projects?

What’s Wrong With Modern Project Management Techniques?

Let’s face it: there is something wrong with big IT projects. You can take a look at the various studies that are out there, but they are all telling us the same thing. All too often, these big projects crash and burn. The latest stats that I’ve seen tell me that roughly 70 percent of big IT projects are not completed either on time or on budget.

So what’s going wrong here? It turns out that one of our biggest problems is that the way that we manage our IT projects is all wrong. The art of project management was set up to manage things like assembly lines and other repetitive tasks. However, the way that we do things in an IT department could not be more different: we are running highly dynamic organizations.

The project management techniques that we are trying to apply to our IT projects were originally designed for projects that were visible, standalone and unchanging. Bad news, CIO: our IT projects could not be more different from this. One of the big differences is that our IT projects involve not things, but people. All sorts of people. People who are wildly different from each other. Looks like we’ve got a problem on our hands.

The 4 Questions That Every CIO Needs To Be Asking

I like science and I’m sure that you do also. That’s one of the reasons that most people with the CIO job have been putting their trust into project management to make our big IT projects turn out better. However, that’s not been happening. When we run into project problems, we tend to try to make our projects even more structured, and yet that doesn’t seem to help at all.

What we need to be doing is realizing that we need to start to focus on the four questions about projects that every person in the CIO position should be asking. These questions are as follows:

  • What are you trying to accomplish and why?
  • To make this happen, what do you need to do and when do you need to do it?
  • How can you accomplish only what your design needs you to do?
  • Who on your team will be responsible for doing what tasks?

As you can probably see from these questions, if your IT project is going to be successful, then as the CIO you are going to have to be focusing on the individual accountability of your team and you are going to have to be providing your team with very clear motivation. If you are able to do this, then you’ll be able to highly motivate the members of your team and everyone will be working to make your big IT project a success.

What All Of This Means For You

If there is one thing that every CIO understands, it’s that IT does not do a good job of accomplishing big projects. Instead, all too often our big projects end up costing too much, taking too long and delivering too little. What we need to do is to find a way to fix this problem because our IT projects are just going to become larger over time.

One of the reasons that IT projects fail is because the project management tools and techniques that we use today were never designed to manage IT projects. Our projects don’t fit the type of project that project management tools were designed for, and in fact our projects involve managing all sorts of different people. What CIOs need to become good at is asking and answering four key project-related questions.

The good news is that the questions that we need to be asking are simple questions. If we can take the time to get the answers that we need, then we’ll be well positioned to make sure that our projects are a success. Start to use these four questions with your projects and watch what happens!

This content was originally posted on The Accidental Successful CIO. It has been republished here with permission. The writer retains all copyright.


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Dr. Jim Anderson

Dr. Jim Anderson has spent over 25 years consulting with a wide variety of IT firms from the very big to the very small. His insights into the leadership needed to combine the separate worlds of business and IT strategy offer hope to CIOs everywhere who are struggling with this challenge.In this blog, The Accidental Successful CIO, Dr. Anderson offers his insights on how to get business and the IT groups to work together for the betterment of the firm.