The Director's Cut: Who needs managers anyway?

Regular silicon.com columnist, David Taylor, asks why so many IT projects still fail...

Regular silicon.com columnist, David Taylor, asks why so many IT projects still fail...

Ebusiness, internet technology and new sexy acronyms may be dominating our strategy plans and thoughts for the future. However, as IT departments, we are still judged to a huge extent by our success at delivering projects. Think about it - almost everything we do is a project, a specific outcome from a team working together. A year ago, I wrote that when I first came into IT, or Electronic Data Processing, four out of 10 IT projects either failed to meet deadlines and the needs of the company, or they just cost too much. Business and IT leaders were unanimous, this figure had to change. It has - it is now eight out of 10. And that does not include those projects that have been brushed under the carpet, or declared a success despite having delivered very little. Forget ongoing evolution, something big has to happen if we are going to succeed in an area that has been the bane of our lives for more than 30 years. Yes, we can argue till we are blue in the face that there is no such thing as an IT project - that everything is a business project. Or we can do something about it, something radical. Over the last two years I have had the good fortune to work with a wide range of companies and IT teams, and I am now convinced that we need to alter our approach to projects at a fundamental level. As I write this, I have on my desk a marketing flyer for a project management two-day course happening next month. It is a sad document. Before I share with you my thoughts on this, please do me a favour. Close your eyes and think about someone in your team and department who delivers on projects, every time. Think about a person who you always call in times of crisis, someone you know who will never let you down, ever. Now think about the skills they have, the attitudes and behaviour they display consistently. I imagine you are thinking of communication, leadership, persistence, inspiration, motivation, focus and action. Now I glance at the flyer on my left. It talks about process, Prince2 project management methodology, bar charts, reporting, management meetings and software skills. And there's the rub - the reason we are in the state we are in. To me it comes down to one thing above all others - the need for project leadership, not project management. Please don't get me wrong, the second list is important, but not as key to success as the first. In other words, it comes down to the character, talent and person you select, over and above the traditional views on how to deliver projects. By "traditional", I mean "what we usually think" - there is nothing traditional about Prince2, of course. In fact, thank goodness it wasn't around in ancient Egypt or they would never have got those pyramids built. And this discrepancy between what so many people think is important, and what really works, continues when we recruit. Too many companies advertise for project managers with specific technical experience, who have consistently delivered quality systems, and who really understand processes. When recruiting for a project manager, look for three things above all else: Scars I ask people for the biggest mistake they have ever made in a project. If they say none, its bye bye. The deeper the scars, the better. Communication Forget the project - are they looking you directly in the eyes when they speak? Are they confident? Is their head held high? Radical thinker Always remember, if we do what we have always done, we will get what we have always got. Does the person in front of you think as if they were on a different planet? No matter how much we whinge about it, we always get blamed when projects fail. It's a universal truth. But we can change the way we run the projects, by appointing leaders instead of managers, and then giving them the freedom to do what they have to do to get the project done.