70% of IT projects fail – make sure yours isn’t one of them!

The statistics relating to IT project failure are scary. Consider this: up to 70% of projects fail; and 17% of IT projects go so badly that they threaten the very existence of the company. The latter is according to research conducted by McKinsey & Company in collaboration with the University of Oxford. They also found that, on average, large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time, while delivering 56% less value than predicted.

According to veteran project manager, Tony McManus, the most common reasons for project failure are quite simple and often start with projects kicking off without a professional project manager at the helm. Simply put: project managers (PMs) are trained to look for certain things as set out in the 10 knowledge areas outlined by PMBOK®*; which line managers (who are often tasked with running projects) are not familiar with.

Poorly defined project scope is another fundamental problem. Organisations often undertake a project without getting their heads around the scope. McManus emphasises the importance of understanding and “unpacking” the project scope properly at the outset.

Often stakeholders, excited about the business case and the anticipated return on investment, are raring to go and do not want to “waste” time planning. They know what they want and they (think) they know what must be done.

At this point, an experienced PM will carefully unpack the activities needed to deliver the business case. This takes time but often the company just wants to get going and skimps on the planning phase. Yet the old adage, measure thrice, cut once is never more relevant than when it comes to project planning.

In the planning phase, the PM will conduct a project definition workshop before drilling down with the individuals involved to find out exactly what’s needed to deliver. Only once the PM has done this can the project plan, schedule and cost be accurately defined.

McManus’ favourite analogy for successful project management is building a house. “If you start building a two bedroom house, with one bathroom, a kitchen, lounge and dining room but decide halfway through that you need a third bedroom and a second bathroom the cost of reworking the building is huge – not to mention the wasted time and resources.”

Similarly, in project management, shifting the goalposts midway through (often because the scope was not properly defined at the outset) is a waste of time, effort and money.

But, while McManus is a fierce proponent of planning, he does offer a caveat: avoid analysis paralysis at all costs.

“Don’t get stuck in an endless planning cycle by become too granular. An appropriate level of planning is important, but so is progress.

“Understanding the project requirements and making sure that everyone involved is on the same page, right from the start, will save you time and money and greatly enhance your project’s chances of success; not only in terms of delivering on time and in budget but, most significantly, delivering the anticipated value,” says McManus.

*   The Project Management Body of Knowledge compiled by the Project Management Institute in the US, using the experience gleaned from hundreds of project managers in the international PM community.

© Tony McManus, McManus Consulting.  |  Image created by Freepik.com.

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