Leadership

Are IT projects really ticking time bombs?

There are obviously numerous other factors that affect the outcome of an IT project, but executive involvement and leadership are the most important reasons for project success.

I recently read an article in the Toronto Star titled "IT Projects Are Ticking Time Bombs."

The article cited a study at Oxford University where they found that 17 percent of IT projects were so mismanaged that they had "average cost overruns of 200 per cent...."

After reading the article, I spent some time thinking about the IT projects I've been involved in over the years, from the large, multimillion dollar SAP projects to the smaller, 5-15 user Dynamics GP projects. I've had my share of smooth go-lives and my share of "rough" projects. One common theme with the projects that run smoothly is that an unbreakable link exists between the project team and their vision of what they're working on and the overall business goals for the project.

It's somewhat human nature, really. If we understand the "why" of what we're doing, then the "what" and "how" are easier to understand and "get behind." I've seen projects with great potential and a really strong business case go off the rails because the executives didn't effectively communicate to the project team what the real goal was. If the project team and leaders have "context" by which to understand the purpose behind the project, the odds of success rise dramatically.

There are obviously numerous other factors that affect the outcome of an IT project (which I've written about in the past), but I come back to executive involvement and leadership as the #1 factor in project success.

I've even seen "rough" projects continue off the rails for months and even years until a new executive comes on board in the company to "take charge" and rally the troops around fixing the problems that exist. In fact, it amazes me every time how rapidly the issues actually get resolved, once a strong leader puts their weight behind identifying the problems and assigning clear accountability for their resolution.

One of the things I look for when selling software to a new prospect is a strong leader. We even had a Client executive bring his entire team to our office this week just to "see the whites of our eyes" and have his team meet ours before moving forward with us. To me, that's a sign of a strong leader who understands what it takes to deliver a successful IT project.

So perhaps some IT projects are ticking time bombs, but all bombs can be diffused by the right person with the right tools and attitude.

About

Andrew King is a Senior Partner with WebSan Solutions Inc. WebSan Solutions Inc. is a Toronto based Microsoft Dynamics Certified Partner with a focus on achieving significant business benefit for Professional Services, Manufacturing and Distribution ...

20 comments
car breakdown cover
car breakdown cover

Everything revolves around It now all projects going do. stanley steemer

tommy
tommy

Andrew writes; "One common theme with the projects that run smoothly is that an unbreakable link exists between the project team and their vision of what they???re working on and the overall business goals for the project." I would offer from my experience that the above situation is, without question, an aid to success. The converse is also true. The ticking time bomb project exists where there is no link between the project team and their vision of what they are working on because there are no clearly defined business goals for the project. Far too often I've had exec's demand systems that IT build for them without any clear understanding themselves of the business needs they are trying to fulfil. Defining the level of project success or failure becomes pointless if the basic step of having any goal deeper then "lets build the widget" doesn't exist.

donstrayer
donstrayer

A CIO used to tell us that there are no IT projects. There are only business projects, some of which use information technology. She was right. Keep this in mind and you will be much more likely to have projects that really matter, that keep business management engaged, and that ultimately succeed.

smithDms2002
smithDms2002

I agree with JJ - if the project was a 'bomb' from the start you will not be able to defuse it. You can bring in more resources or more time or defeature but it will still be a bomb and right course of action may well be to use those resources elsewhere.

wuntime
wuntime

Agreed. In my experiences as a PM I've had leadership teams who never engaged any of the teams involved or reaffirmed any of the project goals and vision who wondered why some project would crash and burn or not even get executed properly altogether.

Stormy7777
Stormy7777

I think what the author is driving at has merit. In the world of all-things-being-equal there is no substitute for good vision, be that at an executive level or all the way to a technician who understands the requirements of a project and translates them into good usable products. Of course as the author points out there are many other causes of project failure (and to varying degrees). Most of the comments above trying to encapsulate a counter-point mention failings of executives which somewhat misses the point. In this article, Andrew is standing with the outlook that the project has the rare find of an executive with vision (almost foresight if lucky) and so a good business case follows and a view of the road (less) travelled is mapped out in their mindset to some extent. All the "lame ducks" and "wheels-coming-off" are projects that under a good lead never get off paper in the first place. Just my two pence worth...

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

So you never seen a failed project defined as a success because the executive has set that expectation then? Never seen a project where the wheels for whatever reason start to come off and the executive suddenly decide to mange it blindfolded. Never seen a project managed by people who tell the exec what they want to hear because they won't listen to anything else. Keep your involved and strong, I'd rather have capable...

axaris
axaris

When the ground is constantly moving, it is inevitable that rigid structures will eventually crumble and fall....

robinfgoldsmith
robinfgoldsmith

Two considerations: (1) Lack of executive involvement often is an effect, rather than the cause, of project failures. (2) Far more than recognized, executives often mistakenly assume they understand the REAL problem/opportunity/challenge, objectives and value, and REAL business requirements deliverable _whats_ that provide value when met by the product/system/software _how_ the project creates. Instead they tend to leap to a presumed product which then turns out not to be what is really needed. When this happens, projects are destined to failure from the start, often before the project manager and team even get involved; and executives distance themselves from the failing project.

TownsendA
TownsendA

As a PM I find IT people naive regarding PM principles and that their belief that governance sorts it all out is misplaced. It only helps but is no solution on its own. Shows how little they know about governance as well. Locolobo was right when he said there was a disconnect between C level people and IT. A basic part of PM is to have a communication plan. Hard to say who is at fault - probably both lots.

Justin James
Justin James

"So perhaps some IT projects are ticking time bombs, but all bombs can be diffused by the right person with the right tools and attitude." I cannot disagree more. Many projects that I am on were horrible ideas from the get go. Trying to integrate two wildly disparate systems, for example, is *always* going to be a disaster. Attempting to force bad technology products to do complex work is another great example. The only way to make a lot of project succeed is to start fresh with a new set of underlying assumptions. J.Ja

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

or 5/6 full? I know. The article is focusing on the misses. But I don't think an IT disaster is what brought KMart down. Wally world and recently Target have been outcompeting KMart for years. It's a dog eat dog world. One thing I didn't see mentioned (or missed) was the disconnect between C level executives and IT. It seems to me many of the upper echelon see their world as a tabletop game. IT is just a piece on the board. As far as they're concerned it doesn't matter that technology powers the board. Or does it? Sometimes it seems cheaper to have a clerk move the pieces around.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Inside IT and out of it. Some would consider it heresy as they profit from maintaining the perception of a gap between IT and Business.

apotheon
apotheon

Bloody crap sounds unpleasant.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Given a competent executive, you'll have proper projects which could succeed, if your exec was competent enough to realise that they needed to get involved for them to succeed... Can I interest you in a bridge?

Stormy7777
Stormy7777

... and where did KMart come into it :S did I miss something? "Bloated", "Overconsumption" & "Malthusian economics" are probably three terms to help give insight into Kmart and shed some light on problems.

apotheon
apotheon

Bombs also can't be diffused most of the time because "diffused" does not mean what Andrew King seems to think it means. The word he wanted was "defused".

spdragoo
spdragoo

The article didn't even go into the detail about it. From what I could dig up, the IT project issue led to KMart closing 110 stores in 1994... however, they didn't go into bankruptcy until 2002, almost 8 years later. That points more to an ongoing issue rather than just a one-time IT project.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

was mentioned in the original article discussed by this article.

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