Most IT failures are driven by hidden dynamics related to political, organizational, and cultural issues. IT failure rates remain high precisely because these factors are difficult to measure, quantify, understand, and manage.
In a recent Gartner Symposium session, analyst Tina Nunno spoke about the role of office politics in contributing to failed IT projects. From the description of Nunno's session:
While technologies can be installed, configured and retired, the level of complexity is minimal in comparison to the complex political situations each and every CIO must face.
Ian Grant from Computer Weekly attended the session and blogged:
CIOs are competing with their colleagues in other areas of the business for control, resources, status and power. Any and all of these are potential flashpoints for the unwary CIO because the shifts in these areas indicate winners and losers, Nunno said.
Nunno recommended CIOs take a look at Machiavelli, whose The Prince, a handbook on how to acquire and hold power has been bedtime reading for leaders since Lorenzo the Magnificent, for whom it was written.
"IT is frequently in a difficult position because we cross the entire organization," she said. This breadth of vision means CIOs often know better what is going on than their colleagues, and this can lead to jealousy and negative behavior, she said.
THE PROJECT FAILURES ANALYSIS
Politics is the hidden killer of the IT world and Nunno correctly asserts that CIOs should become more sensitive to political nuance. However, The Prince is hardly a model for creating healthy political environments where successful IT can thrive. Here's Wikipedia's comment on Machiavelli (emphasis added):
Whatever Machiavelli's own intentions (and they remain a matter of heated debate), his name became synonymous with ruthless politics, deceit and the pursuit of power by any means.
CIOs should remember The Prince is a guidebook to individual survival and ascendancy; it's not a tool for creating collaborative organizations, which success in today's world demands. Read Machiavelli as a background guide to understanding political dynamics, but don't rely on it to achieve successful IT projects.
To create successful projects, CIOs should:
Decipher the political landscape. Yeah, read Machiavelli, but don't take him too literally.
Focus on collaboration rather than personal ascendancy. In other words, don't back stab your peers, as Machiavelli might recommend.
Teach the IT organization better execution skills. Folks in the IT organization already know how to manage servers; now help them learn to manage projects.
Talk with internal customers. Ask the business folks what they need; don't guess and make assumptions, which will probably be wrong.
These four points are critical to achieving successful IT projects. Examine most failures and you'll find problems in many of these areas.