IT Projects : Are they all destined to fail?

As harsh as it sounds, it is a valid question for many IT departments. The short answer is no, not all projects fail but these days a successful delivery doesn’t always prevent failure. Failure can mean different things to different people and can come at different times, which makes it difficult to validate whether something has succeeded or not. For the purpose of this post a brief definition of failure could be along the lines of;

“the failure to deliver the intended business benefits or value through the provision of a new service or process”

(Notice I haven’t even mentioned technology, time or money in this definition, as they just muddy the waters) For years new technology has been perceived as a silver bullet or sorcerery - able to fix anything. Quite simply technology isn’t always the fix for the issue and on many occasions technology can in turn create issues for the business users.

In my honest opinion if there was one thing that would improve the ratio of IT project successes (perceived or otherwise) would be the improved management of benefits realisation. Many of us may have heard the term or are actually doing something about this, but before I go any further it’s time for another definition. Benefits realisation is considered

“a measurable improvement resulting from an outcome which is perceived as an advantage by a stakeholder” (Managing Successful Programmes).

So what steps can we take to ensure better BRM is part of our standard project practice? I would suggest there are 6 simple things which could be looked at when attempting to improve the BRM;

  • Having a specific definition of what constitutes a benefit
  • The identification and validation of the benefits before the project has started
  • The ability to ‘say no’ to a project if the benefits don’t stack up
  • As a starting point benefits could be aligned to to strategic business objectives
  • Improve the planning, tracking of benefits (ensuring these are tracked throughout the life of a product – which could be months/years)
  • The wider understanding of benefits management into the IT department. It should not just the responsibility of the IT project office. It needs to be integrated into all areas of IT

I am not professing to being an expert (far from it) as people more experienced than me have made careers out of this subject. I think however it’s a gap in most environments and whilst is not a simple thing to implement fully, it’s area of project delivery that can be looked at through an improvement program.

If you take away one thing it should be that benefits and value are more than just statements in a document. Just because you deliver something it doesn’t mean they happen, they have to be unlocked and IT don’t always have the key. The majority of the time only the business users have the power to truly unlock them. It’s just up to us as IT professionals to manage and track them.

I may be wide of the mark and please tell me if I am.. Please also comment if your firm follows any particular methodologies and how they are working for you.

 

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