Twelve early warning signs of IT project failure

Summary:Managers often express surprise upon learning their project will run late or over-budget. Nonetheless, we frequently ignore early warnings signs that indicate a project faces trouble.

Managers often express surprise upon learning their project will run late or over-budget. Nonetheless, we frequently ignore early warnings signs that indicate a project faces trouble.

For an academic article on this subject titled Early Warning Signs of IT Project Failure: The Dominant Dozen, two researchers collected data from 19 experts and 55 IT project managers. The researchers discovered an important lesson: "signi?cant symptoms or 'early warning signs' of trouble" often are present long before a project actually fails.

The article describes twelve warning signs, divided into people-related risks and process-related risks:

People-Related Risks

  • Lack of top management support
  • Weak project manager
  • No stakeholder involvement and/or participation
  • Weak commitment of project team
  • Team members lack requisite knowledge and/or skills
  • Subject matter experts are overscheduled

Process-related Risks

  • No business case for the project
  • Lack of documented requirements and/or success criteria
  • No change control process (change management)
  • Ineffective schedule planning and/or management
  • Communication breakdown among stakeholders
  • Resources assigned to a higher priority project

Continued high rates of failure suggest that most organizations ignore these early warning signs. While we can speculate why, one fact is clear: enterprise software buyers are well-advised to recognize potential failure earlier in their projects.

Writing on precisely this topic, CIO advocate Chris Curran, discusses several methods for detecting "weak signals" that indicate downstream problems:

[M]aybe we are ignoring some fundamental, but less obvious signs that our projects are not positioned for success.  These signs, or weak signals, require different mindsets and toolsets to gather, track and act upon.

In my view, we cannot overstate the importance of listening carefully to uncover early warning signs of risk.

Does your organization do a good job detecting the weak signals of impending failure?

Image from iStockphoto

Topics: CXO, Enterprise Software, IT Employment, Security

About

Michael Krigsman is recognized internationally as an analyst, strategy advisor, enterprise advocate, and blogger. For CIOs and IT leadership, he addresses issues such as innovation, business transformation, project-related business objectives and strategy, and vendor planning. For enterprise software vendors and venture-funded star... Full Bio

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