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How Do You Address Root Causes Of IT Project Failure
IT projects fail when they do not meet the following criteria for success:

- It is delivered on time.
- It is on budget.
- The system meets the end-user expectations

As commented on Zdnet, "Only a few projects achieve all three. Many more are delivered which fail on one or more of these criteria, and a substantial number are cancelled having failed badly". According to research by Computer Associates, "a third of all projects implemented each year end up over budget with the typical over-spend between 10% and 20% of the original budget". Other research suggests that 60-70% of all IT projects fail to deliver successfully. So what are the key factors for failure? We have studied a number of projects that have both succeeded and failed and some common factors emerge. Here are some of the most important reasons for failure and how to mitigate the risk:

1. Too Little Business Stakeholder Management
Lack of senior stakeholder involvement has proved fatal for many projects. Without managing expectations of the business sponsor nobody in the business feels committed to a project. If a project is to be a success senior management and users need to be involved from the start, and throughout the development. Priorities within the business need to be set and the expectation of the senior management team must constantly be reviewed and adjusted every month.

2. Unrealistic Timelines
Powerful business sponsors and weak IT leadership often mean "aggressive" timescales, which results in a project being delivered with poor quality. The key recommendation is that project timescales should be short, split larger projects into smaller sub-projects. Preferably use agile methodologies to help the customer see progress on a regular basis. The recommendation here is to review all project plans to see if they are realistic, and to challenge the vendor or internal IT team to express any concerns they may have with it. When you identify these concerns up front it looks like reasons whereas when it is 2 weeks before delivery it looks like excuses.

3. Lack Of Effective Business Analysis
Many projects have high level, vague, and generally unclear requirements. This has led to cases where the vendor builds what they believe is needed, without having any real knowledge of the business. Inevitably when the system is delivered, business users say it does not do what they need it to. This is closely linked to stakeholder management, it is paramount that the business analyst quickly identify the gap between the client and supplier expectation. In particular, if it is a fixed price project and the delivery follows a FSD (Functional Specification Document), and the business analysts did not do a thorough job, the supplier will keep issuing change requests, and costs will skyrocket.

4. Scope Creep
Scope creep is nearly always present in the project life cycle. As the business users start to understand the capabilities of the system in more detail they come up with many wonderful new ideas for improvement. All the vendor cares about is the functionality in the FSD and getting sign-off according to milestones. The client wants the system to exactly do what they desire. This is a management issue closely related to change control. Management must be firm about what is it they want and when, and stick to it.

5. Weak Change Control Process
Businesses change, and change is happening at a faster rate then ever before. So one should expect whatever they documented during the analysis phase will change 3 or 6 months down the line. If change is not managed by effective processes, projects can fail. This emphasises the benefits of shorter milestones and an agile approach to delivering IT projects, so that change has less chance to affect development. The business must assess the impact of any changed requirements on the timescale, cost and risk of project. Change Management and Configuration Management from ITIL disciplines are skills that the IT team should be trained and familiar with. If you are using a third party for the delivery ensure to vet their capabilities on Prince 2 and ITIL if that is a framework your organisation has adopted.

6. Lack of Strong IT Project Management
In our own IT outsourcing deals within the SME market over the past 36 months, it is evident that the single biggest challenge facing SME's in achieving success with their IT project delivery is a lack of strong IT Project Management capability. The project manager in particular in a mid-market business has a much greater responsibility than in a large corporation where they have plenty of support staff and specific functions to help them succeed. In a SME environment, the project manager needs to ensure strong stakeholder management, take on some of the business analysis responsibility, build vendor relationships, recruit top talent from within the vendor, negotiate pricing, execute development and UAT efforts, communicate changes to IT and the end-user, and complete various administrative tasks.

It is at the ground level that IT projects succeeds or fails; most arrangements stumble during operational execution, and not at the strategic level. Our advice is to hire top talent with a proven track record, or prepare/train internal teams to ensure successful IT project delivery. The above mentioned reasons are not the only ones that affect the failure of a project, but in many studies and reports they appear near the top of the list. They are all linked and it requires strong talent to execute fearlessly on them. It is less about technical issues, and more about processes and people (management issues). 

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