The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released data that shows disturbing trends on government IT projects. Moreover, the data suggests that the rate of federal IT failures is likely to increase substantially in coming years.
As part of an analysis of the federal IT Dashboard, the OMB compiled statistics regarding risky information technology projects. The following graph shows this data, with 2009 highlighted in red (click the image to see a larger version):
According to a government presentation, the Management Watch List highlights projects "containing one or more planning weaknesses". These projects are vulnerable to failure because of risks inherent during the planning stage.
The table shows a 42 percent decline in the number of major federal IT projects executed during the period 2004-2009. However, the average budget per project more than doubled during this same period, from $42 million in 2004 to $87 million in 2009.
Here is an astonishing fact: in 2009, 72 percent of major federal IT projects were on the Management Watch list!
My take. Common sense and conventional wisdom dictate that larger projects are more prone to fail than smaller ones. Key enemies of project success -- complexity, politics, and duration -- all rise substantially as project budgets increase.
If this data is accurate, then we can expect government IT failures to increase during the coming years, as large, poorly conceived projects make their way through the system.
Note to US Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra: I applaud your efforts to improve monitoring and control over federal IT projects. However, this data indicates a systemic lack of basic project governance throughout the federal government.
To avoid the coming catastrophe, I suggest implementing additional early-stage review and guidance processes at the agency level, supplemented by increased training. Unless you take intervention steps today, an unprecedented level of project waste will occur during the next 5-10 years.