Why IT projects go wrong: man riding a scooter that is obviously too small for him

Why IT projects go wrong and what to do about it

In Business by Mitchell Feldman, CDOLeave a Comment


In 1998, NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter failed to complete its mission. Why? One engineering team used imperial measurements while the other used metric. This minor oversight caused the $125 million Orbiter to burn up in the atmosphere.

If the rocket scientists at NASA can make such a mistake, you’d be mad to think that your business is immune to failure. ‘Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it,’ said George Santayana. This is true of IT projects, too. They go wrong, in most cases, because of the same few familiar problems.

Here is a run down of the top mistakes and what to do about them.

1. You’re not testing early enough

The construction of the Airbus A380 was pushed back a year or more because the two organisations working on separate halves of the plane used different versions of the same software. Ultimately, when the two halves were brought together, the wiring didn’t match.

Bugs or flaws are inevitable in an IT project. The longer you wait to perform testing, however, the later you will find faults and the more likely they are to derail your project.

There’s really no excuse not to run tests early. If you find nothing you can rest easy, but if you do find a problem you can resolve it before it causes trouble.

2. You’re not getting an outside perspective

Running a major IT project is not ‘business as usual’. Your in-house IT department, however competent, might not have the capacity, experience or skills to take on a big one-off project.

That said, the business owner of the project is a crucial role well suited to an in-house techy. After all, they know the business well enough to understand its requirements. Implementation, however, requires an elite team of pathfinders and system architects. They can bring a fresh perspective, outside expertise and a strong commercial incentive to get the project past the finish line.



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3. You haven’t set clear enough goals

‘Many large projects fail because what they are trying to achieve isn’t made clear enough,’ according to CIO.

In fact, unclear requirements are cited as one of the main reasons why IT projects fail, in a study by The Chartered Institute for IT. In many cases, projects start out with a clear direction, but as more people get involved the scope begins to creep and progress staggers to a halt. How do you prevent scope creep? Set clear, achievable goals upfront and stick to them.

4. You’re not committing to a methodology

Large IT projects won’t work with off-the-cuff project management. They require structure to keep everyone focussed and aligned with end goals. There are plenty of project management styles, but the reason many IT projects fail is because teams don’t commit to a single approach.

If you’re going to adopt a particular methodology, you need to do it properly, and that means getting everybody following the same guidelines. If you opt for Agile, it might be worth getting an Agile coach to train your team in using the approach to its full capacity. Saying you’re Agile isn’t the same as being Agile!

5. You’re not updating

Legacy technology is safe – you know how it works. And it is good to have a solid foundation of technology on which to grow your business. Ignoring the new because the old still works, however, is a big mistake. As Einstein said, you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them.

Technology evolves so fast now that not regularly updating your technology platform can make you obsolete – you must know the Kodak story.

To avoid obsolescence, you must embrace the new, such as hybrid and public cloud or new approaches to app development. If you don’t, you can guarantee your competition will.

Break the cycle, not the project

Almost three quarters of executives expect their IT projects to go wrong. Their fears are not entirely unfounded because as many as 80 percent spend half their time reworking projects that have gone off track.

Repeatedly doing the same thing and hoping for a different result is the definition of insanity. It’s also very bad for morale and the credibility of the IT department. Now is the time to look at what has gone wrong in the past and make sure it never happens again. It’s always cheaper to learn from other people’s mistakes.


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Written by Mitchell Feldman | CEO, RedPixie | Follow him on TwitterSee his LinkedIn Profile


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