While attending the Directions09 conference in Boston today, I explored why IT projects fail in conversations with two IDC analysts.
During a discussion with Vice President for Services and Technology Research, Sébastien Ruest, we touched on key reasons why projects are late, over-budget, or don't achieve expected results. Sébastien commented:
There is still not enough governance. Projects fail because companies do not apply sufficient real-time governance to their implementations.
I agree that too many organizations allow projects to run without sufficient review and control. As a result, potentially minor disturbances eventually escalate into large, full-blown problems. In the heat of battle, I suppose many managers forget that preventive maintenance really does save time and money.
Sébastien also pointed out an overlooked implication of IT failure:
Failures erode confidence in the CIO, causing business stakeholders to reject the CIO's downstream plans. After failures occur, the CIO may face difficulty justifying new projects.
I also met separately with Melinda Ballou, Program Director for Application Life-cycle Management at IDC. Melinda emphasized that many projects fail when poor communication interferes with collaboration among project participant groups:
Although it's common wisdom, poor collaboration and communication between key business stakeholders and IT remains a serious issue. Also, keep in mind that redundant projects, where the organization discovers it is running duplicate projects unnecessarily, is another form of failure arising from lack of communication.
Melinda suggests that Agile development can be an excellent mechanism to improve collaboration, especially on software development projects.
My take. The big causes of failure remain governance, communication, and collaboration breakdowns. As with all people-related obstacles, these issues are difficult to control, let alone eradicate completely. In the end, failure improves when an organization becomes serious about encouraging IT and business stakeholders to work together more closely. As failure statistics demonstrate, that goal remains elusive for most organizations.