Only 39 percent of IT projects successful? That's a good start

Nobody is ever satisfied with IT, but unsuccessful projects only reflect the organization's dysfunction.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Another day, another survey announcing disconnect between IT and the business. A new report from Forrester shows high levels of dissatisfaction on both sides, and suggests more "integrated thinking" is needed.

US Census National Processing Center 2 photo from US Department of Commerce
Photo: US Department of Commerce, Census Bureau

The sound bite coming out of a new survey of 474 IT executives conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of EffectiveUI is that only 39% believe their internal IT organizations have the ability to regularly deliver projects on time and on budget.

There's actually nothing new in this finding -- in fact, 39% probably is pretty optimistic compared to other studies done over the years, such as Standish Group's Chaos report, which suggests that only 30% of projects meet their goals.

Still, there are many areas where IT organizations don't seem to be cutting the mustard. For example, only 43% of the sample report that their IT organizations collaborate with the business on business.

Here's one that suggests the message of service-oriented architecture or enterprise architecture still hasn't resonated among a majority of enterprises yet: only 31% report that their departments maintains a clearly defined set of business-centric services that the business can easily understand."

Still, end-users aren't making things easier.  The Forrester/EffectiveUI survey suggests organizational dysfunction is what keeps sending IT projects down in flames. More than half of the IT executives, 56% say the biggest issue they encounter is users constantly changing requirements on projects in midstream. Half of the IT leaders also say their departments are overburdened, and they end up "trying to do too much at once." More than one-third, 34%, believe they lack clear executive direction, while another 34% point to a lack of the right development talent. A similar number, 32%, cite a lack of stakeholder consensus.

As one respondent put it: “The business folks don't think in terms of what capabilities are nice to have and what are must-haves, and they often give a list of requirements that's too high-level. This doesn't help IT get an accurate sense of how technology can help.”

At the same time, business’ satisfaction with IT is lower than 50%. Despite this low level of satisfaction, only 25% of IT decision-makers place top priority on updating and modernizing key legacy applications, and only 20% believe mobile to be of top importance on their list of priorities.

Enterprise customer-facing apps don't get very high marks from their own creators as well. Only 20% of IT decision-makers surveyed said they were "very satisfied with the user experience of the customer-facing Web applications that are created in-house," and only 14% were very satisfied with their customer-facing mobile applications.

Okay, there's already too much talk about the "lack of IT-business alignment" that seems to be everywhere. What is needed is common-sense, roll-up-your-sleeves collaboration. The two sides inevitably keep getting closer together, because for many organizations, IT has become the business, and the business has become IT.  Plus, members of GenX and GenY keep moving into positions of responsibility, and they were raised on computers.

But, ultimately, technology is only a tool -- it by itself won't put function into a dysfunctional organization.

The Forrester report isn't just a gripe sheet. The report's authors recommend that internal development teams should strive to understand the big picture and take responsibility for not only the creation of the application, but also the impact it has on the business. Here are their three recommendations for increasing collaboration between business and IT:

  • "Take back responsibility for great applications with integrated thinking." Such thinking requires application development teams to understand the big picture and take responsibility not just for building the applications but for their positive (or negative) impact on the business.
  • "Task integrated design with people who understand both business and technology." Great design, the report's authors say, "comes from people who can enumerate the options, try decisions on for size, and make informed choices that fit within design constraints, but that are consistent with the vision for the final product." Don't treat it as just another process. 
  • "Measure every design decision based on its impact on user experience."

(Thumbnail photo: James Martin/CNET)

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