Why IT projects fail

The past years, many companies complained about IT projects. In general, IT projects tend to be late, over budget, and not fulfilling expectations. What is the reason for these complaints?

I think most projects fail because expectations are not aligned between stakeholders and projects.

All projects have several stakeholders. These stakeholders are (among others):

  • Business process owners
  • End users
  • The financial department
  • The system administrators (functional and technical)
  • etc.

Who decides if a project is a success?

If the expectations of a project meet the financial departments expectations and the end users expectations, but not the expectations of the system administrators, some stakeholders feel the project is a success, and others don’t. I think a project is only a success if all stakeholders are happy in the end.

All stakeholders all have expectations about the project. Sometimes these expectations are written requirements, but many expectations are implicit. Implicit requirements that are obvious to one or more stakeholders might not be so obvious to the project team.

An example can be the availability of the system. If the requirements say 99% availability (where the actual expectations are that the system is always up), the system administrators can use the 14 minutes per day (which 99% availability implies) to make a snapshot of a SAN for backup reasons. The business probably did not meant this, and thinks the project made a mistake.

Another example is the assumption that an web-enabled system works with older browsers (or with Firefox), where the developers used technology only available in Internet Explorer 6 and higher. The helpdesk probably will feel the project failed, where the only problem was a lack of communications of requirements.

Another issue is the expectation of the project planning. Sometimes the planning of a project is not based on realistic prognoses by experienced people, but on business requirements. The business timelines can be very important, but to make a project a success, the amount of work that can be done in a certain timeframe is limited. Either the scope of the project should become smaller, or the quality (and the success) of the project will be too low.

So, if the project has no knowledge of all the requirements and expectations, and if the project is faced with an impossible planning, it will certainly fail, no matter how hard the project staff is working.

This entry was posted on Friday 26 September 2008

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Sjaak Laan

Recommended links

Ruth Malan
Gaudi site
Esther Barthel's site on virtualization
Eltjo Poort's site on architecture


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