Properly understanding IT failure requires looking inside the relationship between IT and business groups in an organization. Ideally, these groups should create business strategies using technology as the support for shared business goals.
However, many organizations fall short in this area and remain saddled with turf battles, internecine wars, and Machiavellian plots. Needless to say, such environments are not conducive to IT success.
With that backdrop, I enjoyed speaking with Bruce Maas, Chief Information Officer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he leads information technology strategic planning for the campus and is responsible for directing University Information Technology Services (www.uits.uwm.edu). Bruce once served as Project Manager for the PeopleSoft Student Administration implementation, successfully meeting all major milestones on time, within scope, and a half million dollars under budget.
Bruce and I met on Twitter and we've had numerous discussions about the relationship between IT failure and poor requirements planning. If you care about the CIO perspective on IT failure (and you should care), listen to this podcast. You'll gain insight into a CIO's view on creating better projects.
On the roots of failed IT projects:Every organization is in a different position depending on its maturity. Many mistakes get made right at the beginning, when projects are conceived and the business case is built. For example, consideration may not given for how the software will be implemented within the overall organization.
Something that seems narrow in scope at the beginning, for example after talking with a salesperson, becomes a lot more complicated when it's implemented.
On why up front estimates are often wrong:
Many ideas come from the business side, which is not sure how to start these projects in the right way. Especially on smaller projects, familiarity with desktop tools causes business owners to under-estimate the complexity of the project. Frankly, we don't give them the tools needed to help them ask the right questions and so they know what they're getting into.
On communication issues between IT and business groups:
We lack a common vocabulary. Oftentimes, we find we're talking past each other, using words that one or the other doesn't understand. Our organization has tried to build a shared vocabulary and a shared way to approach problems.
On teaching IT and business groups to work together:
We've used the International Association of Business Analysis (IIBA) methodology to create a common approach that isn't overly burdensome. Business unit owners and IT staff need to understand they're on the same team trying to accomplish the same objectives. Creating a sense of shared ownership positions you well to succeed in the later stages of a project.
[Photo via FusionCIO.]