Ed Yourdon is a seminal figure in understanding and interpreting software failures. Among Ed's many accomplishments is writing 27 books and almost 600 articles on this subject. I interviewed Ed to learn his views on the relationship between governance and IT project failure.
Governance is an important topic and a key driver toward aligning IT activities with an organization's broader strategic goals and interests. Given Ed's stature in the field, this is an important podcast. To listen, just click the start button on the audio player at the top of this post.
I've summarized and edited some of Ed's comments, but listen to the podcast for the best experience.
What is IT governance?
Governance is usually the province of organizations managing large projects. It comprises five areas:
Strategic Alignment, to ensure IT activities support overall business objectives
Value Delivery, to ensure that IT projects and systems deliver appropriate value to the organization
Performance Management, which includes process improvement
Risk Management, which has received much attention due to the current challenges in the economy
Resource Management, to ensure an organization properly manages hardware resources, network resources, and so on
Can governance prevent IT failures?
Substantial competition for limited resources creates a tremendous possibility for mismanagement. Governance helps prevent organizations from either wasting resources or applying them to technologically interesting areas that have no particular value to the company. Proper governance also helps ensure proposals for new systems are aligned with the company's overall strategic plan.
There is often enormous cultural or political resistance to risk management and failure prevention activities, because people just don't want to hear the bad news. Still, we need to protect IT investments to ensure we don't lose them due to unforeseen or unappreciated risks.
Organizations also have varying levels of maturity with respect to governance. For example, many large companies still don't use a project management office (PMO) to execute projects consistently. A surprising number of functioning, profitable companies deliver their projects in an ad hoc fashion, treating each one somewhat differently.
Has the difficult economy increased governance activities?
Extreme budget cuts and overall investment scrutiny are causing organizations to pay more serious attention to IT governance. These companies want to ensure proposed projects are genuinely business critical, to avoid placing speculative bets on new technology.
Will failure rates decline in response to this governance activity?
Maybe, because some of riskier projects won't receive approval to get started. When analyzing ROI, it's common for many managers to overstate project benefits and understate potential risks and costs. Greater scrutiny caused by the current economy may change this.
However, we may also see more understaffed or underfunded "death march" projects, which are risky and have a higher likelihood of failure. I don't think they are going away and I'm not terribly optimistic. [Note: Ed is currently updating his book, titled Death March Projects.]