Why IT projects fail
The financial services sector is littered with the wrecks of failed IT projects. Major implementations are frequently abandoned or scaled back because costs are escalating skywards. And when costs are on the rise, the natural reaction is for more analysis of where the spending is going rather than focusing on how to rescue the implementation from the situation it has fallen into.
A key reason for this is the increasing reliance on the ‘science’ of project management. People have come to believe all projects can be broken down into a series of simple tasks that will all sum up to the project goal and that this can all be pre-planned. The idea of known – unknowns lurking out there is ignored as managers try to remove any uncertainties by increasing the amount of pre-planning. Then, when problems do surface, as inevitably they will, all too often the response is to have endless meetings to find out how it wasn’t foreseen.
Frequently the focus switches to more frequent measurement of where the project is against the original plan; as if constant measurement of how far adrift the project is will eventually change its course. Meanwhile the project drifts into the iceberg and the only benefit of all the ‘project management’ is that there is plenty of detail to explain how it got there.
What gets forgotten is that plans and charts are merely tools to do the job. People have been implementing projects since mankind first crawled out of the ocean and for most of that time they did it without project management ‘techniques’. There were no Gantt charts for the building of the Pyramids or the Roman Aqueducts. I am not criticising Gantt chart or other project management tools, they can assist in getting a job done but tools don’t implement projects; “people do”.
It is the people factor that is frequently overlooked when the going gets tough in a product or platform implementation project. The most important thing a project manager can do if the project is starting to go off the rails is to motivate the staff to rescue the situation. Empowering the staff to resolve their problems and getting them focused on the real issues in the project is essential if it is to be saved. Instead, there is a tendency to micro-manage, leading staff to emotionally surrender control and interest in the project. They often end up abdicating responsibility and focusing on doing what they’ve been told to do, whether that will work or not.
Relentless checking of their process, measuring percentages and getting hourly progress updates only demotivates them and reduces the amount they can achieve. At this point the project manager is actively hindering the project and has become a cause of the lack of delivery rather than the solution.
If managers focus on traditional line management tasks of motivating and directing their staff, and are confident that they are working hard on the right tasks, then whatever they achieve in a given time frame is all that could be achieved. This is the essence of project management. A project manager who concentrates on unleashing the enthusiasm and skills of his or her staff to get the job done is far more likely to be successful than those who lock themselves away with spread sheets and Gantt charts.
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