Despite the fact that sound system design and installation methodologies have been well known for decades, the IT profession is still plagued by troubled or failed projects, colloquially called “an Ox in the ditch”. Studies like the Chaos Reports published by the Standish Group over the years have documented the extent of IT project successes and failures. For example, the latest publicly available report, "CHAOS Summary 2009" states:
This year's results show a marked decrease in project success rates, with 32 per cent of all projects succeeding which are delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions" says Jim Johnson, chairman of The Standish Group, "Forty-four per cent were challenged which are late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24 per cent failed which are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.
"These numbers represent a downtick in the success rates from the previous study, as well as a significant increase in the number of failures", says Jim Crear, Standish Group CIO, "They are low point in the last five study periods. This year's results represent the highest failure rate in over a decade" (Standish 2009). Businesses have to be aware of figures like these before you give the go-ahead for an IT project. Failed IT projects can be disastrous to an organization, even forcing them to go out of business.
Some of the reasons IT projects fail are:
- An inadequate understanding of what functions and features (i.e. requirements) the organization needs in the new system. It would be like trying to build a building before its design has been completed.
- Poor project planning, task identification, and task estimation. Usually this means that essential tasks have been overlooked or under-estimated meaning the project’s time and cost estimates are too optimistic.
- Lack of proper skills on the project team. This would be like assigning carpentry tasks to an electrician. Some IT professionals think they can do anything and this is almost always not true.
- Failure to address problems and/or project champion. Just about every IT project has problems. If they are not dealt with on a timely basis they do not go away by themselves, they just get worse. It is helpful in addressing problems if a highly-placed executive is a “champion” of the project and can step in and get problems solved if the project team is struggling.
- Inadequate testing. All too often, a new system is put into operation before it has been adequately tested to be sure it handles all conditions it is likely to encounter. A system failure after conversion can cause normal business processes (like accepting customer orders, for example) to fail.
- No fall-back plan. Before converting to a new system, the project team should have a tested fall-back plan they can revert to in order to keep business processes working while the new system is adjusted.
- Executive champions should be aware that IT project risks are all too often known to the IT professionals but are not always shared with others. Therefore, you should always ask that a formal project risk assessment be done at the beginning of a project and that plans are in place to keep risks at a minimum.