- August 22, 2002
Information technology project risk often comes from non-technical aspects
of the initiative. Assessing the impact of technology on people, management
systems and other initiatives is essential to assure project success.
automate problems" This department slogan was posted on my office door
(the inside) for several months while I and other managers in the department
struggled to break out of a string of failed projects. It was apparent
that we were not being successful because our clients and management told
us exactly what they thought of our work and it wasn't good. We felt strongly
that we were not a collection of dunces that had stumbled into IT management
and we took no solace in studies that report typical project failure rates
of seventy-two percent.
This note first appeared in a column by James F. Dowling in Mid-Range
Computing. Look for other previously published Mid-Range
Computing columns by Mr. Dowling at this site or visit Midrange
Showcase at www.midrangecomputing.com/showcase/.
Did The Projects Fail?
Being the technologists that we are, we embarked on a tedious and somewhat
embarrassing self-examination of projects and skills. Projects were diagnosed
with the clinical rigor of a post-mortem. We found solution design flaws,
project task omissions, execution deficiencies and product choices that
might have been more thoroughly considered. Perhaps led by facts and perhaps
constrained by ego, we did not feel that project design and team skills
accounted for the consistency with which we missed due dates and failed
we dissected our portfolio of recent projects, we came across a number
of issues that were not related to the technical aspects of solutions
design and project execution. We placed these into a "parking lot" for
future examination. The list consisted of issues that the IT Teams had
with other IT Departments, the client and with parties within the company
that we felt should not have been involved.
delivery of critical networking components was traced to a finance executive
who wanted capital expenditures held up until he could challenge the
project in an Executive Committee meeting.
training was attributed to delays within the Human Resources department
as they obtained approval of salary structure benchmarks for new jobs
created by changed business process.
- A Data
Warehouse and Executive Information Systems project disaster was attributed
to a solution designed, built and tested for a client-specified sales
force organization and compensation structure that were not executed
or even approved before the system went live.
- A business
process engineering project ran up significant costs creating a splendid
design for a business unit that was sold shortly after implementation
and discussion with management within the business units who made up our
client base made it clear that IT projects must consider much more than
the technical aspects of projects to assess scope and risk. We knew this
and we had already taken measures to makes all projects that we undertook
business process improvement projects rather than thinking of them as
information systems projects. We had also taken measures to have all such
projects led by business management with executive approval.
that we learned however, is that we transferred the project risk associated
with environmental to our business partners. We had avoided true project
risk assessment and management.
Following are some of the lessons learned that we built into our Project
value will be derived from this solution?
or Enable a New Product/Service/Capability?
the environmental impacts / requirements?
- Can failure
interrupt or damage critical daily business operations?
- Can failure
in this effort damage the company's reputation?
- Can this
effort incur/cause significant other financial losses?
- Is this
effort in search of a clear champion?
- Is this
effort in search of a clear project leader/manager?
- Is this
a large project effort? (> 6 months or $100,000)
this effort be on an accelerated or tight time schedule?
this address a longstanding difficult issue or problem?
- Has this
problem/issue been unsuccessfully addressed in the past?
- Is more
than one organization involved (not including I/S)?
more than one organization be impacted by the outcome?
- Are any
stakeholders opposed to/highly skeptical of this proposal?
- Is the
outcome dependent on experimental technology?
- If so,
will more than one supplier of critical components be involved?
- Is a
high level of technical complexity involved?
- Is this
a first time effort at this company for a project of this kind?
outside contractors lead or provide key project deliverables?
> 5 persons be on the project team or Steering Committee?
a project plan/responsibilities still need to be established?
the project team lack needed skills/related experience?
- Is the
project team matrix managed/controlled by many managers?
- Do key
team members reside in separate departments/buildings?
implementation require significant formal user training?
this require implementation and training at >1 site?
- Are there
doubts about commitment/availability of key participants?
It is essential
to have the entire enterprise know: why such projects are being undertaken,
the breadth and depth of impact across the enterprise, the risks that
will require diligent attention and management and what each department
manager will be accountable for to result in a success for the enterprise,
not just for the project team.
To obtain maximum benefit from this type of assessment, the Corporate
Information Services Department had to change its organization structure,
operational processes and even culture. Over a four year period, the teams
saw project success rates climb to ninety-plus percent, operating costs
reduce by more than thirty percent, client satisfaction reach new highs
each year and a three-year, sixteen million dollar backlog shrink to nil.
The transformation was certainly as stressful as it was productive. In
fact, a Climate Assessment Survey reported that the department had the
second highest levels of Stress and Employee Motivation level in the company
but, that is a subject for another time.
column will continue to explore the change/size paradox-big companies
desiring speed and growing companies desiring stability. The author would
appreciate feedback on material presented as well as suggestions for future
study and reporting. The general theme is IT management and the goal is
to make it easier to get clients what they want and what they need to
Jim Dowling is VP of the Alignment Consulting Practice at TechnologyEvaluation.Com,
Inc. located in Woburn, Massachusetts. TEC researches IT products and
suppliers as well as the ways companies obtain business value from IT.
TEC's consulting services remove time, risk and ultimately cost from IT
Jim can be reached at jdowling@TechnologyEvaluation.COM.