Of particular concern is that value-added resellers dressed up as "independent" consultants are frequently behind these failures. The troubling pattern is that the problem or opportunity to be solved is never validated by hard evidence. Hence, the client buys the "wrong" solution, while the "real" problems and opportunities remain out of scope. To be fair, not all value-added resellers focus on aligning specific IT solutions with any and every problem. Other problem-solving approaches such as evidence-based management and consulting are gaining traction in response. In the mean time, more and more firms are seeking some "fix" for a failed or failing IT initiative.
How do you know when your IT project is "going bad?" Here are some warning signs offered by CIO Magazine (2007):
- Project team lacks substantial buy-in and interest in the project’s success
- Poor communication between stakeholders and project team members
- Few interim deliverables, so tangible progress is not demonstrated
- Bad news isn’t allowed to be shared, meaning denial is pervasive
- Project team works lots of overtime, suggesting the schedule is slipping
- Project resources are frequently diverted to other activities
- Interim milestones are often missedReducing project scope is viewed as an acceptable means to meet budget and schedule requirements
ESL International (2006) offers this list of flags:
- No one has a firm idea of when the project will be finished and most people have given up trying to guess
- The product is laden with defects
- Team members are working excessive hours—20 or more hours per week of involuntary overtime
- Management has lost its ability to control progress or even to ascertain the project’s status with any accuracy
- The customer has lost confidence that the project team will ever deliver the promised goods
- The team is defensive about its progress
- Relations between project team members are strained
- The project is on the verge of cancellation
- The morale of the project team has hit rock bottom
- The customer is threatening legal action
I recently had a career IT professional say to me that most of the IT projects he had been involved with over the years were, in his words, "experimental." The remark stunned me, but perhaps explains why so many IT implementations fail. Many IT professionals started their careers as programmers, network administrators, and installation specialists. In each of these roles, "trial and error" problem-solving techniques prevail, so it is not surprising to see the same cohort of IT experts continuing to rely on these same methods. What is changing however is that IT projects now undergo continuous scrutiny for return on investment, and many IT professionals are unprepared for this reality by either training or temperament.
If your IT project appears to be in one or more of the states described above, it may be time to bring in another set of eyes to see just what is going on, and perhaps consider an entirely different approach to your firm’s needs.