IT project failures have again been in the media recently. Mostly it's public sector failures that are splashed across the pages. It's not just the public sector projects that fail, many commercial organisations experience them too. As a professional body, we're all too aware that most IT project failures are not due to the technology used, or at least it is not the sole cause of the failure. However, this is not generally the case when they're reported in the news and therefore we're concerned that the general public never really get to see the whole story. As a result, the profession that is today driving almost every business and many public services, is undermined. So what can CIOs do to avoid project failure?
Today, project teams have a choice of project methodology; with the emergence, and increasing adoption of Agile, alongside the more traditional project management methods. Agile offers the opportunity for teams to act if things don't go according to the original plan. Teams can learn from the problems, experiment, try again and learn what does work, adapting their plans as they work towards implementation. It contrasts with the more traditional approach in which specifications are laid down early in the project and the team concentrates on fulfilling these, with testing carried out at the end of the development resulting in limited flexibility to respond to unforeseen difficulties.
There's no magic solution to creating successful projects, however, no matter what your methodology, there are some common contributors to failure to be mindful of. They include; poor specification, insufficient budget or time, a lack of executive and senior management buy-in, unclear business objectives and shifting requirements, poor user involvement and poor risk and stakeholder management.
According to some analysis undertaken by BCS members, one of the major weaknesses uncovered is the total reliance placed on project and development methodologies. One explanation for the reliance on methodology is the absence of leadership within the delivery process. Processes alone are not enough to cover the complexity and human aspects of many large projects which are typically subject to multiple stakeholders, resource and ethical constraints.
This suggests that as CIO, whatever methodology you choose, your leadership has the potential to be the one of the key factors for success. As a leader you'll draw on all of your skills and vision to set the standards for your team, instil confidence, and develop a rapport with your stakeholders.
Projects require the right teams and as CIO you'll need to select individuals who have the right skills, a proper understanding of the methodology based on appropriate training, and very importantly the capacity to take on the project.
By ensuring good governance and clear project specification, which should be driven by business objectives, you can give your team, and your customer, a thorough understanding of the end goal and a clear vision of where a project is heading. It also means that when a project is not working effectively, it can be picked up earlier and prevent much wasted time and resources.
Risk and stakeholder management has an enormous contribution to make if you're looking to be successful. If you're working in an Agile way, then accepting change and reacting to it is a big part of the journey, but no matter what your project style, involving the customer in the process from beginning to end of the project's life is vital. Stakeholder communication and change management should not be underestimated or left to chance. If you bring the users with you and have buy-in from the senior team, then the whole business can realise the benefit of the project. At the end of the day, this is what it's about - delivering real business benefit and ensuring that the IT profession is well respected and trusted.
If we (the leaders of the profession) do not blend the technology capability of our team with an ability to disrupt the sector we work in, someone else outside the organisation is going to do it for us. It is critical that we can be trusted partners within business. We cannot talk strategy if we do not find a way to halt the erosion of our credibility through very public failures. We don't have all the answers, although the people leadership aspect is key, but we should try and rally people to the cause!