Leadership investigate

CIO Jury: When is the right time to kill an IT project?

It's a tough call for IT chiefs...
It is better to kill off a problematic IT project that has fallen off track than to continue "flogging a dead horse" simply to satisfy boardroom targets, according to UK IT chiefs.

But knowing when to ditch an IT project and when to persevere in the face of opposition is a tough call to make.

We asked the silicon.com CIO Jury user panel whether, in the face of a failing IT project, it is better to continue in order to 'tick the boxes' for the boardroom or take a braver decision to bite the bullet and ditch it.

The result was almost unanimous with 11 CIOs voting 'yes' in favour of killing a project and just one voting 'no'.

Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO at Manpower, described it as criminal for companies to continue with a project that is not on track to deliver what was expected.

"A major failure within IT is not always recognising early enough that something should be stopped and having the courage to change scope or cancel completely. Successful business requires urgent action - including where that means stopping and diverting resources to items that will add value," he said.

Organisations that do end up blindly continuing with a bad project are likely to regret it, according to David Jemitus, head of IT at the Government Planning Portal.

"Although the decision to terminate a project can be painful to make, few people regret such a decision whereas many regret having allowed a bad project to continue."

Kevin Lloyd, CTO at Barclays, said it can be better to kill or re-scope a project in order to succeed while Ken Davis, head of IT at TV channel Five, said it is essential to be able to communicate the rationale for doing that to the board.

Les Boggia, head of IT at insurance firm Carole Nash, said despite the common sense in killing a poor project "flogging a dead horse seems to be a passion of many companies" because of the fear they have passed the point of return having spent so much money getting that far.

"The impact of implementing something that is not right will cause long-term financial impact on the IT department and the business," he said.

Frank Coyle, IT director at John Menzies Distribution, said that while killing off a project is often the right and courageous thing to do, the real skill is in when to make that call.

"Identifying this condition and separating it from the project that everyone is sick of hearing about but which is actually close to successful completion and just requires an extra push to succeed, is much more difficult. Misjudgement on this issue is what leads to the project which is 97 per cent complete for the last 18 months of its development," he said.

The one IT chief against making that call was John Odell, group IT director at the BBA Group. He said: "If the project directly impacts boardroom targets, then the board should decide what to do with the problem, given the best information and advice."

Today's CIO Jury was…

Les Boggia, head of IT, Carole Nash
Frank Coyle, IT director, John Menzies Distribution
Ken Davis, head of IT, Five
Peter Dew, CIO, BOC
Kevin Fitzpatrick, CTO, Manpower
Derek Gannon, operations director, Guardian Newspapers
David Jemitus, head of IT, Government Planning Portal
Kevin Lloyd, CTO, Barclays
Rory O'Boyle, Head of IT, The Football Association
John Odell, group IT director, BBA Group
Phil Pavitt, CIO, OneTel
Peter Ryder, Head of ICT, Preston City Council

If you are a CIO, IT director or equivalent at a large or small company in the private or public sector and want to be part of silicon.com's CIO Jury pool, or you know an IT chief who should be, then drop us a line at editorial@silicon.com