Project Failure

Standish Group’s 2009 CHAOS report notes only “…32% of all projects succeeding which are delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions… 44% were challenged which are late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24% failed which are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.”

Why do so many IT projects fail? An IT professional’s first inclination is to respond that it is because they are harder. A PM for Boeing managing construction of a new jetliner or a PM building a skyscraper may take umbrage, yet the juxtaposition of these two disciplines is well beyond the scope of A few reasons one may pose for why IT projects are uniquely difficult might be…

  • IT is a relatively new function. At most, it is only 50 years old as a corporate discipline. There is a limit to how mature practices can become over such a short time period.
  • Managing an IT project is no less than a juggling act. IT is always moving, changing, and adapting. It permeates through just about every other business function.
  • Requirements change. While true for any project, IT is especially susceptible to changing requirements because that change in the abstract is so easy to realistically consider. Workflow changes can be easily conceptualized in the mind of an end-user customer, but the logical representation in software and supporting infrastructure may be significant.
  • Complexity! Moore’s Law, the progression of science, and America’s innovative and entrepreneurial culture have ensure a steady influx of newer, better, bigger and faster technologies, all of which typically have to be made to work with existing technologies. Add this to an unregulated industry with only loose standards bodies, and there is complexity thrown into every IT project.

Michael Krigsman writes a blog on ZDNet dedicated to IT project failures where he frequently pontificates on the various factors. In his post “Who’s Accountable for IT Failure“, he identified three causes.

  1. Unrealistic and mismatched expectations
  2. Conflicts of interest among customers, vendors and integrators
  3. Corporate organization structure that conspires toward failure
In his essay “Four Horseman of IT Project Doom” in the spring journal of IASA (Insurance, Accounting and Systems Association), Professor Leon Kapelman discussed the early warning signs of project failure and cites his “deadly dozen”.
  1. Lack of top management support.
  2. Weak project manager.
  3. No stakeholder involvement.
  4. Weak commitment of project team.
  5. Team members lack requisite knowledge and/or skills.
  6. Subject matter experts overscheduled.
  7. Lack of documented requirements and/or success criteria.
  8. No change control process or change management.
  9. Ineffective schedule planning and/or management.
  10. Communication breakdown among stakeholders.
  11. Resources assigned to higher priority project.
  12. No business case for the project.