8 reasons to pause or kill your IT project

If you spot these IT project red flags regarding sponsors, vendors, hardware, and other factors, it's time to evaluate how to proceed.

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IT workers are doers—they relentlessly find ways to overcome project hurdles, and they often succeed. Nevertheless, there are times when wisdom can overrule hard work; in these cases, there are a number of telltale signs that indicate it's time to reassess an IT project. It's up to CIOs and IT project managers to recognize these signs, and determine if the project needs to be reconfigured, or call it quits so that other work can move forward.

SEE: Project failure: 10 excuses your boss doesn't want to hear (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

1. Hypotheses for an analytics project don't pan out

Several years ago when I was visiting with a Teradata data science executive, he told me that the division he ran had learned to "pull the plug" as soon as signs of project failure appeared. Analytics projects are particularly susceptible to failure because they are based on data hypotheses. 

You always hope to get the insights from data that you're looking for, but there's no guarantee that you will. This makes it especially important to pull the plug as soon as you see an analytics project stall or fail to deliver results in multiple attempts.

2. Users and/or sponsors lose interest in a project

Corporate priorities constantly change and so do interest levels in IT projects. If you see a sudden drop of interest in key users and/or executives sponsoring your project, arrange a meeting to see if priorities have shifted. 

If users and sponsors affirm that they still support the project, it's your job to let them know you feel interest has dropped and to explain the type of support you feel is needed for the project to succeed—this should put the project back on track; if it doesn't, alternatives are to table or cancel the project.

3. An IT pro's poor performance impacts the project

When there are repeated lapses in an IT pro's performance that are impacting projects and project team members' morale, it's time to discuss the situation with that employee. Firing an employee or even demoting him or her are not easy decisions and should be used as a last resort. However, if you've met multiple times with the employee, held a joint meeting with the employee and HR, and have made every effort to adjust workloads, address work issues, etc., and performance levels still haven't improved, it's likely time to move on.

4. Poor vendor performance

If a vendor consistently misses SLAs or provides poor support to your team, it's time to make a change. The best way to do this is to negotiate an annual evaluation of the vendor's performance in your contract with the vendor that gives you an opt out if you aren't satisfied. 

5. Shelfware

Minimally on an annual basis, IT should run its asset management system and take inventory of every piece of software in the company—this includes software purchased or licensed by IT and software purchased/licensed by user departments. If software is discovered to be unused, or minimally used over the past year, the software and its license could be a candidate for termination. 

6. Antiquated hardware

All of us in IT have seen the signs of aging servers and disk and tape drives—they begin to require reboots or their performance degrades to a point were they can barely be used. As soon as these reboots and slowdowns begin to occur, these assets should be eliminated. The best course of action is to have a rolling plan that closely matches financial depreciation life cycles with technology asset depreciation life cycles. It's not always the easiest thing to do, but companies are getting better at it. 

7. An app or system that doesn't work

Your help desk, QA, and your software maintenance departments are the best sources of information about which applications or systems have the most trouble, bugs, etc., and your end users are the best source of information about the systems and applications that are least helpful to the business. If there is a system or application that consistently fails everyone, it's time to look for a replacement.

8. An app or system that can't meet its KPIs and ROI

Ultimately, applications and systems are judged on whether the company received a good return on investment (ROI) and whether the system or app delivered on the key performance indicators (KPIs) it was supposed to. If you have a system or app that is doing neither, it's time to consider replacing it.

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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...