Friday, April 24, 2009

Do the decades differentiate IT Project failures?

So, how does Corporate Profiling influence the successful outcomes of IT Projects – including Agile Development, Cloud Computing, SOA’s and any other type of IT project?

Today's technologies are a far cry from the times of paper tape input and card deck readers of mainframe computers that required real estate approximately the size of the White House in the early 1970s just to supply a fraction of the computing power of a single modern server.

In the famous words of Albert Einstein:
“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”
Albert Einstein

Has technology outsmarted us and exceeded our ability to keep pace in today’s information age?

Are organizations fooled into believing that a natural outcome of these technology advancements is that their next IT project that utilizes Agile Development, Cloud Computing, SOA or other advanced packaged solutions will have more chance of succeeding than IT projects of the ‘70s?

Most top level executives can conceptualize how technology works and what it is capable of delivering, but very few actually comprehend the complexities involved.

The fact remains that these technologies still rely on human factors. Unfortunately they therefore still face the same risk of failure and are still subject to ongoing issues regarding support, communications, requirements, management and poor decisions.

So, what does Corporate Profiling change and do differently that can help organization to minimize the risk of project failures?

As we have all come to realize, there is no panacea, no silver bullet and no “10 point plan” or easy path to guarantee an IT project’s success. Corporate Profiling, however, does reduce the risk of a “ready, fire, aim” approach.

In a nutshell, it is a pre-implementation/pre-investment process undertaken by organizations before they embark on their next IT project. This is done ahead of and is not a replacement for methodologies such as process modeling.

And according to Plato:
“The beginning is the most important part of the work” Plato

Firstly, Corporate Profiling provides an extensive framework of key decisions and questions that need to be addressed by an organization’s leaders and executives. Their answers validate the decision to pursue the project and underpins its success by mandating core strategies vital to the project’s execution and flow.

These decisions require collaboration between relevant parties and peers to ensure consensus that leads to fully supported decisions. All decisions require executive accountability to ensure the quality of these decisions. The resulting decisions and derived information at this initial stage of an IT project forms the basis for further development of a Corporate Profile which will then provide the answers and input required for each subsequent critical step within the pre-implementation framework and process.

Corporate Profiling promotes three key principles: Visibility, Collaboration and Accountability. All three are required to ensure that a solid foundation is established before a project commences.
Visibility of an organization’s key elements and processes is critical to developing a blue-print of the organization and allows for the accurate identification of correct and extensive project requirements, communication points, information sources, interlinked relationships, strengths and weaknesses and the most appropriate people or parties to be involved in the project.

Often it is the less obvious or indirect factors that adversely impact upon a project if they are not identified at the outset. Visibility also alerts an organization to other not so obvious parties that need to be involved in providing input into the key project discipline decisions.

Collaboration on all strategic project decisions by C-level and senior executives is critical to ensure that unbiased quality decisions are arrived at, consensus is achieved and that decisions are fully supported. Collaboration is also a prerequisite for requirements gathering to ensure that all input and feedback is received and correctly processed.

Accountability empowers employees to drive change and to feel involved rather than becoming cynical or resistant to change. Responsibility for key decisions more often than not just promotes issues such “agreement for ease of an answer”, “deferring to a higher power” or “self appointed decision makers for the group” to name a few. On the other hand holding parties fully accountable for results and outcomes is critical to ensure that quality input into strategic project planning decisions are obtained.

If you look back on your experience and encounters with IT Projects, I am willing to bet that the majority of the causes for failures would have been avoided if a Corporate Profile had been established at the outset.

Kind regards
Sarah Jane Runge

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Best intentions will not guarantee IT project success

So why do IT projects continue to keep failing when there are so many Project Management and Quality Assurance tools out there to manage them?

Recently I heard of an organization that decided to invest in EVM (Earned Value Management) software so that they could monitor the progress and budget of their forthcoming major IT project. However, the EVM software implementation became troubled. And since this was their silver bullet to help them avoid an IT project failure in the first place, there was no software or processes in place to tell them when, where and how the EVM implementation began to go off the rails.

Simply put it doesn’t matter what variety of IT system, software or SOA initiative an organization is looking to undertake, the risk of IT failure remains the same. If due diligence on an organization’s strategic decision making processes has not been undertaken at the pre-investment or project pre-planning stages, failure (in one form or another) is almost guaranteed.

When an IT Project fails due to human factors, (which is most likely the case), often the causes can be traced directly back to poor or a lack of strategic decision making at the pre-investment or pre-planning phase of the project.

The “What”, “Why”, “Who”, “When” “Where” and “How” decisions of investing in or undertaking IT projects are critical to organizations in determining whether projects will succeed or not. As these decisions are the foundations and key drivers for determining project successes, they must be diligently made by C-level executives and senior management *before* projects commence.

Questions such as:
  • What is driving the investment decision, what key strategic processes do we need in place, what do we need to do to initiate the project and what outcomes do we expect?
  • Why are we undertaking this project?
  • Who is driving the investment decision and project, who supports the project, who needs to be involved and who is accountable for what?
  • When do critical project initiatives and actions need to be initiated?
  • Where are our key information, communication and requirement sources?
  • How will we secure and retain project support, how will the project proceed and how will we measure progress and success?
If these questions cannot be adequately answered by C-level executives and senior management and communicated both verbally and formally to their organizations *before* projects get underway, there is little hope that answers or corrective actions will materialize once the project is in full swing.

Kind regards

Friday, April 17, 2009

Unbundling complex organizations to simplify IT Projects

How to simplify organizational complexities in order to understand and analyze the “What”, “Why”, “Who”, “When” and “How” of an IT project.

The first step is to “Unbundle” an organization into it’s constituent categories, functions (or business units/departments), and processes. In so doing you are then able to profile these components and analyze and understand how and where they are interconnected with each other and their relationships.

Unbundling the processes will also give you visibility into what, where and how manual (and often undocumented) processes are interconnected with automated computer-based processes. This is important because as one interconnected process is changed it will likely impact upon other processes which will in turn impact on further processes and so on creating a ripple effect (the butterfly effect). It is essential to identify common interfaces between manual and/or computer-based systems in order to better understand what and how processes are influenced.

Once the functions, departments, business units and processes have been unbundled, you are then able to identify the most appropriate parties that need to be involved and included in the IT project. Often only the most obvious or prominent parties are identified as essential for the project, however, by unbundling we are able to identify the more obscure or indirect parties and processes. These additional parties and processes can often be a key source of project requirements and will need to be solicited for their input and involvement. It is also helpful to identify key communication points, informal and formal information sources, possible areas of change resistance or support and who needs to be involved in the decision making process.

Unbundling the external value chain will identify if, where and how suppliers and customers integrate into an organization’s incumbent IT systems, functions, departments and processes. This is also a major source of project requirements and will allow the parties to understand precisely how they will be impacted and what they need to do to adapt to the change.

Remember 80% of an iceberg is out of sight and similarly the vast majority of project requirements are largely hidden.

Unbundling the Pre-implementation process enables us to break each step down into specific disciplines. At the outset of a project these disciplines all require strategic decisions to guide them so that they can be successfully established, executed, managed and adopted by an organization throughout the projects life-cycle.
  1. Pre-investment decision making process
  2. Communications
  3. Executive, stakeholder and user support
  4. IT governance and risk
  5. Success metrics and strategy
  6. Change process
  7. User input and requirements gathering
  8. Training and process development
  9. User adoption
  10. Vendor and solution selection
In my next post to this blog I will investigate the first of these disciplines the all-important “Pre-investment decision making process”.

Kind regards
Sarah Jane Runge

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

IT Project Issues and Causes

It is still incredible that people expect IT projects to proceed successfully when they have not done sufficient planning at the outset?

It’s a bit of a Catch-22 – you cannot plan if things that have not yet been fully decided and agreed upon and at the same time you cannot manage something that has not been planned.

When a project starts to go off the rails, chances are that the root cause of the problem can be easily traced back to poor project decision making processes before the project commenced. So in order to understand the many possible reasons and causes for IT projects failing (to varying degrees), we need to review events at the *inception* of IT projects rather than analyzing problematic outcomes *after* the proverbial brown stuff hits the fan!

Specifically it is an organization’s pre-investment decision making and pre-implementation planning processes that needs attention – not scapegoating and other such unproductive exercises. If these strategic processes are either not established or lack structure and rigor, decisions will be insubstantial with a lack of accountability for the outcomes. The flow-on effect of weak decisions is guaranteed to adversely impact the project once it gets underway.

My in-depth analysis of failed IT projects clearly demonstrates that problematic project outcomes are almost always directly attributable to insufficient or poor strategic project decision making at the outset.

The following issues and associated causes may well ring a bell!

The above sample of issues and causes is by no means exhaustive but is indicative of common causes of IT project failures.

A final word on strategic decision making is that these decisions *cannot* be made in isolation by a single person who “deems” themself to be the chief decision maker. For decisions to be accurate and also supported by an organization and peers they require collaboration and accountability.

Kind regards
Sarah Jane Runge

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Art of Scapegoating

Have you or someone you know ever been the scapegoat for a failed IT project? If so read on. This may give you a déjà vu feeling.

And as the saying goes, “A good scapegoat is nearly as welcome as a solution to the problem”!

This is often a sorry consequence of failed or derailed IT projects. Everyone is responsible for the project and no one is accountable for its outcomes. This issue will become even more apparent as the project progresses. Over a period of 1, 2 or 3 years people will either leave the organization/project or will otherwise forget who was actually accountable for having made the critical investment and planning decisions in the first place. Time has a tendency to blur the facts! So what can project sponsors do when they get that sinking feeling that an IT project is heading into deep waters? Hunt for scapegoats! (shhhhh people don’t readily admit that this is what actually happens). Who wants to be held accountable for a train wreck of that magnitude? Nobody – hence the scapegoating!

Unfortunately, organizations typically identify vendors, project managers and CIO’s as the obvious parties (read scapegoats) responsible for under-delivered and over-budget IT projects.
In actuality, the causes generally lie in the camp of the C-Level, senior executives and presidents themselves. Why? Because strategic decisions to invest in IT systems are always made at the top level of an organization. They should instead be asking themselves where they messed up and analyze whether, why or how their IT investment and project decisions were under-analyzed, under-scoped, under-supported, under-communicated or under-trained. Did they make the critical strategic project decisions and follow through with an execution strategy to establish key project procedures or not? Information cannot be expected to be communicated via osmosis or hearsay.

Ask yourself who was responsible for identifying and collecting project requirements and were they empowered and accountable? Were they the most appropriate people or just the most senior or worse still – self-appointed?

The other key question that vendors and customers should be asking themselves is “did we assume that extensive requirements were collected and correctly documented from the most pertinent and pivotal parties?” Most of the time both parties just assume that the important task of requirements gathering has been diligently carried out (which is where the slippery slope begins and scapegoats are sought out).

Kind regard
Sarah Jane Runge

Monday, April 13, 2009

Causes for IT Project Failures

A lot of blogs out there are dedicated to analyzing IT projects once they have failed and the cause nearly always tend to be the same. I want to make a difference!

I am a Kiwi (New Zealander) born and raised, which makes me a straight talker, no BS and you won’t need to read between the lines. In 1985 I moved to Australia to pursue my IT career. Back then NZ didn’t have a lot of opportunity for IT professionals to advance (things have changed now). Being a “pseudo” Aussie means I am objective, confident, don’t mind being wrong and love to hear other people’s opinions.

This blog, myself and my company (ITPSB) are dedicated to helping organizations minimize the risk of their IT projects failing, under delivering business benefits or the dreaded budget and time overruns. Most of these issues are avoidable provided that sufficient pre-implementation planning and execution of strategic decisions are undertaken before projects commence.

Having been involved with both the business and technical side of IT projects for over 24 years and also having conducted numerous research investigations and interviews into why IT projects continue to be hindered in some way or another – there always appears to be a myriad of reasons given as to why individual projects failed. Reasons that are identified in hindsight: such as poor management, communication problems, lack of project support, lack of technical expertise, over-promised and under-delivered, vendor issues and so on.

However, the single key issue that I have isolated as the primary cause is the Strategic IT Project Decision Making and Execution (or lack of) in those decisions. If strategic project decisions such as “why are we investing”, “who is responsible”, “how is the organization is going to secure project support”, “actively involve users”, “communication strategy”, “identify requirement sources”, “training”, “project sponsorship”, “management support and leadership” are not made before the project commences then planning their execution becomes mission impossible!

Over the next 10 days I will post to this blog on the subject of Corporate Profiling.

Corporate Profiling will detail the various organizational disciplines that must be addressed by the organization and its executives before they undertake their next IT project. So I look forward to your feedback and comments.

For a preview of my book “Stop Blaming the Software – Corporate Profiling for IT Project Success” please feel free to view my SlideShare.

Kind regards