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5 Reasons to Kill IT Projects

By Michael Krigsman
A survey of IT experts revealed 43 percent of their organisations had
recently killed an IT project. The study, conducted by ISACA, an
independent IT governance group, highlighted the top 5 reasons these
organisations named for terminating projects prior to completion.
Here's the list, with my commentary on each issue:

1. Business needs changed: 30%


There are many conditions and situations where a business legitimately changes its requirements
after starting a project. If the project no longer provides meaningful value, then it's best to stop
throwing good money after bad.
On the other hand, some organisations deliberately obscure a flawed project requirements
process by claiming business needs evolved. Obviously, that's unhealthy and a true sign of failure.

2. Did not deliver as promised: 23%


This is a typical expectation setting problem: promise anything to get funding and worry about the
consequences later. Shortsighted managers don't realise that funding is less important than
delivering substantive value. Failure is inevitable when managers don't clearly identify and deliver
business value.
In some cases, the project really did provide value, which the organisation did not recognise due
to communication problems. I recently blogged about one CIO seeking a publicist , presumably
to address this issue:
Many organisations take a CIO for granted when his IT department consistently delivers the
goods without fanfare and attention; sadly, this human failing is all too common. In that case, PR
might be a great idea, especially if the CIO isn't a great communicator. Of course, the CIO should
improve his communication skills, but that's another story.

3. Project was no longer a priority: 14%


If the organisation shifted direction without good reason, thus making the project superfluous,
then flawed strategic planning was the culprit. However, if business requirements changed for a
good reason, as suggested in point one, there's not necessarily a problem.
In general, and this is an obvious point, cancelling projects without a darn good reason is a
definite sign of failure.

4. Project exceeded the budget: 13%


On the surface, over-budget projects are the basic metric for failure. I'm actually surprised this
number isn't higher, because unanticipated cost is always such a clear red flag.
At the same time, some projects run over-budget due to intelligent scope increases that provide
additional value. For example, while automating two departments, the project team realises it can
add a third department for only marginal increases in cost. In such cases, going forward is
probably the right decision despite the higher spend.

Although tempting to use budget performance as simple metric of success or failure, that
approach can be overly simplistic and ignore important nuances related to business value.
Nonetheless, anytime a project goes over-budget the team must offer a detailed explanation.

5. Project did not support the business strategy: 7%


This classic indicator of failure often suggests a project rooted in poor requirements analysis.
However, as with previous points, it's also possible changing business needs made the original
project goals obsolete.
The survey is most interesting to highlight significant issues related to project failure. However,
some of the questions are too ambiguous to provide straightforward conclusions. In general,
understanding whether a project is successful requires examining the business environment and
context.
Michael Krigsman is CEO of Asuret, Inc. , a software and consulting company dedicated to
reducing software implementation failures. Asuret's suite of software tools improve the success
rate of enterprise software deployments by quantifying and measuring the grey, non-technical
risks and complexity that cause most implementation failures. Michael led the research effort
underlying Asuret's model of risk factors that typically contribute to project failures. Michael
consults to software companies and IT departments on topics related to improving software
implementations. Michael blogs about his project management experiences at IT Project Failures
.

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