Chris Dallar: IT Projects are Supposed to Fail

Posted on July 1st, 2013 By Chris Dallar



I’ve read recent articles from “experts” who are now suggesting that some IT projects are supposed to fail.  Really?  I’ve only heard these words a few times in person because they are so hard to say with a straight face.  I won’t try to explain the logic behind this claim but it certainly seems to be a veiled attempt to lower the expectations of the clients and businesses that pay for these projects.  “Look into my eyes…..IT……….. is different………IT projects are supposed to fail……..and……….. you still have to pay……..you are getting sleepy……”

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In my last post, I made the case that our collective failure as an industry in getting better at producing successful IT projects was mainly due to the human components of the project.  Your feedback confirmed this diagnosis, but I’m sure it’s easy to agree that people are the problem as long as I’m not talking about you!  Let’s see what you think as we explore this further.

If you still have that list handy which documented why your last IT project failed, I’m sure it contains one, or more, of the following “root causes”:

  • Unclear requirements and/or unclear project objectives
  • Poor estimating and/or project planning
  • Flawed system design
  • Inadequate testing
  • Insufficient resources
  • Insufficient user involvement/input
  • Lack of clear and timely communications
  • Poor project management
  • Scope creep
  • Lack of executive support (it’s a brave project manager who puts this one on the list!)

I could write a paper on each of these and how to avoid them… many have and some of the advice is helpful.  The fixes are certainly not new and most of us understand them.  But for some reason, we haven’t been able to implement them on a sustained basis and our track record of success has not improved.  Have we defined insanity?  Do we keep doing the same thing and expect a different result?  Maybe all that is left is doing the same thing and trying to lower expectations.

There are pockets of success.  There are groups and organizations that have a remarkable record of delivering successful IT projects.  It can be done.  What the rest of us need to understand is that the reason we do not improve is because we are working on the wrong list, a list of symptoms rather than the real issue.  The reason IT projects fail is that the performing organization has a leadership and organizational culture that does not allow it to:

  • Learn from the past
  • Implement permanent fixes
  • Perform in an optimal manner

To be successful at projects, you have to have a project-based organization and culture.  At a minimum, you need a project- based IT organization.  If you are an IT service provider, you need a project-based company.

I’ve seen IT service providers and IT shops that have implemented project-based practices thinking they have implemented a project-based culture.  They would be wrong and their results reflect this.   Implementing project-based practices in a command and control organizational culture is exactly what dooms them, and our industry, to a poor record of IT project success.

Next time I’ll discuss how to recognize which type of culture you are working in or with.   In the meantime, “You…….are………..getting……. sleepy……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”

Chris Dallar is the president of the Logan Advisory Group. Follow Chris here or at LinkedIn by clicking the icon below.