Why IT projects fail –
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Causes and solutions for an existential problem
For modern project management, there are a variety of possibilities and sophisticated methodologies to achieve the desired goal. But time and again it is shown that, despite years of planning, too many projects are delayed or even fail in the end. By the way, this not only affects small and medium-sized companies, but also large corporations, which on paper have all the resources and expertise to successfully implement their IT projects on their own. Failure does not automatically mean that a project has not been completed or that there are any gaps. In IT, it is enough if a newly introduced software that was introduced with great effort and high costs is not used by the employees as planned. But what is the ultimate reason for the failure of projects that are actually useful and necessary?
Consider the end
Everyday life in companies is often compared with the planning of military campaigns. Whether you likes this analogy or not, it is indeed the case that the planning and execution of projects involving analyses and strategies have many parallels with the planning of a campaign. It is all the more surprising that managers like to follow this analogy without paying attention to one of the most important wisdoms from ancient times:
“Whatever you do, do it wisely and consider the end!”
With regard to the problems in IT project planning, it cannot be denied that an imprecise objective in the formulation and design of projects is one of the main reasons for their failure. Far too seldom are questions that are actually obvious dealt with: Will the conditions of today still be the same at the end of the project? What adjustments will be necessary? How will later changes affect planning and budget limits? You cannot expect a project team to meet the original objectives if conditions change in between – often several times. The precise definition of objectives in the initiation phase is therefore essential for successful project planning. Unfortunately, many companies are not in a position to make such definitions on their own. Sometimes this is due to a lack of competence and experience, but often it is simply due to operational blindness. External professionals in project planning like EVOSULT can be very helpful already in this phase.
Change management is often neglected
The larger a company, the clearer the structure: the superior orders, the subordinate departments implement. Thus, if an IT project is ordered “from above” because the introduction of new software or new structures in IT has been recognized as sensible and necessary, it is expected that this will be implemented smoothly by those affected. But this is precisely where one of the biggest problems in project planning lies: If you don’t pick up the stakeholders (i.e. the people who are directly affected by the effects of a project) and involve them in project management, you shouldn’t be surprised if the innovations and solutions introduced “over the top” are rejected internally and not used. Those who do not overcome such internal resistance create immense frictional losses for the company and invest a lot of money in structures that are ultimately not or not fully used. It is therefore important to identify and involve all stakeholders and interest groups affected by the changes. This does not necessarily mean grassroots democracy. But the more clearly the changes and their benefits are communicated in change management, the greater the acceptance among those affected. Moreover, this way much useful stakeholder input can be incorporated into the project, which in retrospect can no longer be brought in or only at great expense. The rule of thumb is: once the toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube, it can no longer be refilled.
Internal project teams are not always the best choice
Even if the internal employees responsible for planning and implementation deliver excellent work in their usual job, this does not automatically mean that they are good project managers. Just as not every doctor is a good health minister, not every engineer is a good project manager. Often, internal project teams lack the empathy and assertiveness and simply lack the experience to plan and implement a project from start to finish. And even when these conditions are right, internal forces cannot see the wood for the trees because they are operationally blind or underestimate the complexity of the project. Nevertheless, in individual cases it can make sense to support your own employees with project planning or to make them part of the team. The most important thing is to carry out an analysis in advance to determine whether doing it yourself or obtaining external help is the more effective way to use the existing structures and qualifications. EVOSULT recommends such a make-or-buy analysis as an early step. It is crucial that a project team is always well attuned to each other, because otherwise extreme time and friction losses could cause the project to fail.
Conclusion: Successful IT project management requires openness and precise planning
It sounds so simple and logical, but is often neglected in practice. Of course, precise planning is a prerequisite for any successful project implementation. But the lack of clearly defined goals at the beginning takes its toll in later phases. Budget limits and time limits cannot be adhered to if, in retrospect, a project is constantly being changed and employees are faced with tasks that can hardly be solved. How complex such a project is is all too often underestimated. At EVOSULT, many years of experience have shown that even highly qualified internal staff regularly fail in project planning because they are operation-blinded for many parameters. Especially the management does not pay enough attention to the change management. A successful implementation can only be expected if the stakeholders affected by the changes are involved in the restructuring process from the beginning. Otherwise, a project, however meaningful, can fail due to lack of acceptance and internal resistance.
Author: Kai Kobbelt
Project manager | Managing director and shareholder
The senior consultant has already supported well-known and internationally active companies in all project phases. He established himself as project manager and product owner in the areas of project, rollout and change management. As managing director and shareholder Kai Kobbelt founded EVOSULT GmbH in 2009.