Most IT Departments Have Projects That Fail

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About 95 percent of information technology departments in mid-sized businesses are delivering projects that are late, do not function properly or fail to satisfy the organizational leaders that initiated them in the first place, according to a new study conducted by Info-Tech Research Group. The report’s findings were based on responses from more than 1,400 companies in the United States, Canada and the U.K.


Although the survey was limited to mid-sized organizations, the numbers are generally representative of both small and large companies, as well, said Frank Koelsch, Info-Tech’s executive vice president of corporate strategy and research.


“I think another way of looking at the figure is that only 5 percent of our respondents said they had no projects fail—in other words, that 100 percent of their projects were successful,” he said. “That can happen for a variety of reasons: Some don’t have many projects because they are just operationally focused, and some are just very good at it. Others may be very small. If you’re a small organization, the projects tend to be simpler and easier to manage.”


The top three key factors that cause IT projects to fail were unrealistic time frames, low numbers of IT staff and poorly defined scope (62 percent). Surprisingly low down the list at number five was lack of financial support, which indicated respondents didn’t feel it was an issue of raw dollars, Koelsch said.


“The top three are all issues that can and should be addressed before a project is actually kicked off,” he said. “This is interesting in the sense that one can address the reasons that projects fail in an entirely preventative way, prior to its start.”


The number one response, unrealistic time frames, was listed as a problem by 68 percent of poll participants. “Projects tend to be driven from above because they’re business imperatives and time frames tend to be set by the business management, which has a sense of urgency and doesn’t necessarily understand the complexity or the resources required to actually execute the project properly and in a timely way,” Koelsch said.


Low levels of IT personnel was the second-largest obstacle, with 64 percent of respondents listing this issue. “In terms of the lack of number of staff, I think that mid-sized companies tend to run leaner IT groups overall, and they tend to get a lot of pressure to execute on many fronts at once—in other words, operationally, fixing problems and major projects,” Koelsch said. “Even though staff are assigned to projects, other operational imperatives like systems going down, problems to fix and critical changes can interrupt their activity on a project.”


Koelsch said the third-biggest challenge (62 percent), poorly defined scope, is a management issue that should be addressed by both business and IT leaders. “Project success is largely determined by the amount of quality and planning that goes into the project up front before it starts,” he said. “For both business management and IT management in mid-sized companies, where resources tend to be thin, it is easy to skimp on the up-front planning phase of a project. The second problem is scope creep, so that during the course of the project, they can’t contain the scope. During that project development phase, when they’re actually undertaking the project, more and more is heaped on in terms of deliverables and scope change.”


Koelsch recommended that in addition to devoting a good deal of time and energy to the project planning phase, the success of any project hinges on clear definitions of what needs to be accomplished and the outcomes expected as well as a high degree of alignment between IT and business.


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