“public relations people seem better than ever at helping to hide massively
screwed-up corporate and governmental programming projects from
stockholders and citizens”
Stephen Manes commenting on changes he’s observed over the past 25 years.
Full Disclosure, Stephen Manes, PCWorld, December 2008.
“My approach to the research into this book comes from the perspective of pre-
implementation planning analysis rather than the technical aspects of IT project
implementation. It identifies what needs to be done within the organization pre-
implementation to increase a project’s probability of success.”
1 The Global Landscape of Failed IT Projects
“I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please
The first chapter sets the scene for failed IT projects and their impact on
organizations and the economy in general.
Organizations undertake IT projects for one or a combination of the following
reasons: “Market Changes”, “Competitive Factors”, “Profitability Drivers” and
My findings from interviews with organizations that have undertaken IT
projects that either failed or were challenged are described.
“Small, medium and large organization alike lamented their “short-falls” that with
hindsight became glaringly obvious. They all concurred that foresight into these
areas could have been achieved if corporate profiling, as I described it to them,
had been undertaken prior to them spending their hard earned money.”
2 The IT Project Crisis that Won’t Go Away
“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our
To create awareness of the many causes of failed IT projects and to introduce
the concept of Corporate Profiling as a remedy.
The futile and mostly wildly incorrect blame that is leveled at those who are
involved “after” investment decisions are made.
“Ask yourself. How can there be so many vendors out there that are so
incompetent in their areas of expertise? And why are there so many
inadequate software packages? The answers are that they are not and
there is not. QED. Although it’s easy to blame the software, in my
studies and interviews with many companies that have suffered IT
project failures, not once was the software itself to blame. And rarely if
ever was the vendor incompetent. They were merely delivering what
their customers, asked for.”
How IT project disasters can be avoided once the leaders of organizations
understand how they themselves in fact contribute to such failures.
“Why do executives abdicate from their critical project decisions and
responsibilities? You will be amazed at how many IT project disasters
have come about simply because of what one or two people insisted was
the correct course of action or who deemed their requirements to be
accurate and comprehensive.”
There is no point appointing the best project team to manage something that has
not been adequately planned or if the organization is unprepared for the change.
“Project Managers then become the project “fire fighters”. Project Managers do
what they have been tasked to do by the organization.”
3 Insight, Foresight and Hindsight
“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success”
To outline how senior executives themselves actually contribute to IT project
To introduce the concept that insight and foresight can significantly increase an
IT project’s probability of success rather than being left with hard-won
hindsight knowledge on the completion of a project when it is too late.
The following headers: “Starting with a Vision”, “That Dreaded Feeling” and
“The Big Aha!” and the associated text should strike a cord with most readers.
When the leaders of affected organizations finally realize the poor state of
health of their IT projects, they tend to rationalize and blame their vendors or
Executive roles in bringing about IT project failures are emphasized.
“In truth, the responsibility for under-delivered and over-budget IT
projects lies predominantly with C-Level and senior executives,
presidents and managers themselves.”
“Top level decision makers who at their projects outset failed to profile
their organizations in order to correctly identify organizational
objectives, business needs, and sources for user and project
“Because the roles of senior executives are strategic and not operational,
they simply do not have the necessary insight into the …”
How insight, foresight and hindsight can increase the probability of an IT
“Organizational insight as well as hindsight from previous projects will provide
the foresight for future implementations to be undertaken by the organization.
Hindsight is only good provided people can learn from it.”
“A good scapegoat is nearly as welcome as a solution to the problem”
To discusss how and who will be the likely scapegoat candidates, and how
organizations and vendors often set themselves up for IT project failures.
On the one hand organizations assume that all of their project requirements
have been accurately and extensively collected and documented, and on the
other hand vendors also assume that what their customer has documented fully
describes what is required of the system.
“Frequently both parties find out later rather than sooner that their
project requirements are incomplete or incorrect. In the final analysis,
irrespective of how failed projects are rationalized, heads will roll and
scapegoats will be found.”
Why organizations need scapegoats.
“Someone or some third party (or parties) will be forced to shoulder the
blame for corporate accountability to the organization and its
5 Where and How IT Project Problems Begin
“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems –- not people; to focus your
energies on answers –- not excuses”
William Arthur Ward
To analyze at what point in an IT implementation problems begin, what the
contributing factors are and how these factors compound IT implementation
An analysis of the causes for IT project failures indicates that poor pre-
investment and pre-implementation decision making and planning are at the top
of the list.
“To understand the many possible reasons for IT implementations going
askew, we need to review events at the inception of IT projects rather
than analyzing problematic outcomes.”
Decision making and accountability
“If the pre-implementation decision making process is either not
established or lacks structure and rigor, these decisions will be
insubstantial with a lack of accountability for outcomes.”
Requirements and input
“The other major cause of IT implementation problems is incomplete
business requirements and user input.”
Compounding the Problem
This discusses how IT project problems are compounded after organizations
appoint their vendors and commence the implementation process. This often
occurs without sufficient planning or requirements scoping.
“The problem is compounded when vendors and service providers win
“Project scope-creep is synonymous with over-budget and over-time
and if unchecked can result in a runaway project. This is usually an
indication of either inadequately sourced business or user requirements,
an IT driven rather than a business driven project or incrementalism.”
6 Factors Contributing to IT Project Failures
“Most people spend more time and energy going around problems than in
trying to solve them”
To identify the factors, decisions and processes within an organization, how
they contribute to IT project failures and what can be done to increase the
probability of an IT project’s success.
Identify categories, disciplines and causal factors.
“A common contributing factor for IT project failures is often due to
disparate processes between an organization’s functions or departments
and fragmented communications between executives, managers and the
rest of the organization.”
Organizational and Leadership factors that will increase the probability of an IT
“The majority of these causal factors indicate the absence of rigor in an
organization’s pre-implementation decision making processes. These
causal factors also reflect the lack of strategic project decisions being
made by senior executives.”
7 Corporate Profiling
“The beginning is the most important part of the work”
To introduce the Corporate Profiling concept and how it benefits organizations,
what its purpose is, what it identifies, what it can achieve and how it can
significantly increase the chance of IT project success.
The three key principles of Corporate Profiling and why they are critical to the
success of an IT project.
“The three key principles of profiling, visibility, collaboration and
accountability help to ensure that profiling accomplishes the following
The purpose of Corporate Profiling.
“Profiling will dramatically reduce the risk of an IT failure at the outset
because it establishes a solid foundation of qualified, objective,
comprehensive and accurate organizational information from the
When should organizations undertake Corporate Profiling?
“Corporate profiling is a relatively straightforward yet comprehensive
process and is the first step to be undertaken before an organization even
contemplates investing in an IT system.”
How Corporate Profiling works and its role in helping to identify project
“Unbundles an organization to provide visibility of all of its functions,
departments and processes as well as its customers and suppliers that will
impact, effect or need to be involved in the IT implementation.”
8 Unbundling the Organization
“While intelligent people can often simplify the complex, a fool is more likely to
complicate the simple”
Gerald W. Grumet
ote: At this point the reader will have gained sufficient knowledge to start
work on creating a corporate profile.
The purpose of this chapter is to begin the top down process of unbundling an
organization into categories, functions, processes, the external value chain and
also unbundling the pre-implementation process into disciplines.
This is the first chapter that contains pivotal questions that will tease out the all
important information that will deliver a complete corporate profile.
Subsequent chapters further build on the corporate profile using this question
and answer approach.
To begin the unbundling process, firstly the three major components of an
organization must be identified.
“Once an organization’s main components have been identified, it is
easier to identify and understand the connectedness between an
organization, management and IT. By further separating these
components and their influencing factors, the many levels of complexity
are also recognizable as well as the influence and impact that these
components have on one another.”
Following further unbundling of functions and processes, the reader starts to
gain insight and visibility into the interconnected relationships and operations
of an organization.
“With visibility as to where and how departments, functions, processes
and people are interconnected, an organization’s links and relationships
will become apparent.”
The reader can clearly see how corporate profiling delivers insight into and
understanding of an organization for project requirements and information
“This will allow them to understand precisely how they will be
impacted and what they need to do to adapt to the change. It will also
assist with identifying precisely where their user requirements are to be
9 Decision Making
“Informed decision-making comes from a long tradition of guessing and then
blaming others for inadequate results”
To bring order to the organization’s IT investment decision making process by
enforcing accountability on appropriate parties.
I start by explaining the flaws and pitfalls of unstructured and under-analyzed
“This step profiles the IT investment decision by identifying common
reasons why organizations initiate IT Projects, how these decisions are
made and who and what drives the decision making process.”
I continue by describing how good decision making processes can be
implemented to avoid these pitfalls.
“By appointing a single person to be accountable for the overall
decision, the quality of their input and analysis of the situation is more
likely to be comprehensive and conclusive. This ensures that the final
decision will be sound having been made objectively based on hard
Decision making situations and common issues, which readers can easily relate
to, reinforce the important concepts that are discussed and outlined here.
“During the IT Investment decision making process, the Organization, Business
and IT categories can easily become entangled and bogged down in a not-too-
subtle tug-of-war with each hoping to improve their own position. This is a
normal response and identifying each entity’s motivations and individual wants is
critical to maintaining a common perspective during the vital strategic investment
10 IT Risk and Governance
“Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them”
To make the reader aware that IT risk and governance issues must be addressed
prior to making an IT investment decision. Even if an organization has
implemented an IT governance framework, if it is not properly administered
and managed then the IT project will remain at risk of failing.
To create an ongoing robust framework for maintaining a constant vigil over
current and future IT projects.
To discuss the concept of IT governance and risk, why it is essential when
undertaking IT projects and how if it is correctly managed it will support the IT
“IT Risk and governance is a multi-faceted and extensive process or
framework around which organizations link IT and business strategies.
It ensures that due process achieves the desired organizational goals and
objectives and that appropriate success metrics are applied to ensure that
IT projects achieve their stated business objectives.”
Creating awareness of the importance of these measures.
“IT risk and governance measures need to be rigorously applied so that
they are permanently indoctrinated as part of an organization’s culture
thereby making IT risk management a formal day to day function rather
than an ad-hoc occurrence.”
The impact of mismanaged or underutilized IT governance frameworks and risk
mitigation measures are discussed.
“It is surprising to find that many large organizations and government
bodies that claim to have stringent IT Governance frameworks still have
rogue, run-away or failed IT projects. These are just a few examples of
such organizations and references to their rogue projects.”
The book contains many examples and references to case studies that illustrate
the issues and topics discussed.
“Nevertheless, when Sydney Water’s IT implementation went over
budget by more than $80 million their response was to euthanize the
project. Even so, the Vendor did not consider it a failed project but a
“cancelled project” because at the time of cancellation the project was
on track for delivery (totally ignoring the matter of the budget blow-
11 Strategy and Success Metrics
“However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results”
Just as in the scientific method used for experimentation, it is equally important
for IT project success measures to be established at the outset with clearly
defined methods for interpreting outcomes that support an organizations
This is where the abovementioned purpose is emphasized.
“As much as an organization’s strategy and objectives need to be clearly
understood and articulated, so too do the success metrics that are
applied to the IT implementation.”
Project success metrics need to be decided at a project’s outset and aligned with
a corporation and its business strategies.
“A project’s success cannot be measured without first identifying what
the primary target or objectives are. Before executing an IT investment
decision an organization needs to decide on the metrics that the success
of the IT project will be measured against.”
Before commencing a project, organizations needs to decide and agree what (if
any) project over-runs are justifiable in terms of budget and time, and to
appoint an appropriate person as the “Project Euthanizer” who will be
authorized to direct parties to execute that decision if and when the time comes.
“Different people will also have differing views of what is an acceptable
project over run. Therefore, organizations need to decide on these
parameters at the outset and be prepared to take action for specific
legitimate reasons to renegotiate the parameters.”
12 Communications and Gathering Requirements
“Start with good people, lay out the rules, communicate with your employees,
motivate them and reward them. If you do all those things effectively, you can't
Communicating and gathering accurate requirements from the correct sources
may appear to be an obvious and straightforward process. However, this aspect
of an IT project is probably the highest single contributing factor to IT project
failures. The purpose of this chapter therefore is to provide the reader with a
comprehensive formal approach to ensuring that rigor and accuracy is enforced
when gathering requirements and communicating project information.
This is where the abovementioned purpose is described.
“A common misconception about IT project failures is that they are
primarily due to IT mismanagement, poor hardware and software
selection or poor project management skills. This is seldom the case.
With very few exceptions, the major cause of IT project failures is
attributable to a lack of effective communications between senior
executives, IT and the rest of the organization.”
The parties to be involved in project communications need to be carefully
identified and their responsibilities made clear at the outset.
“To ensure that the organization is well prepared for its proposed IT
implementation, it must ensure that effective, open, honest and multi-
directional communications takes place between the critical components
that have causal interconnected relationships with the respective
This section of the chapter brings the reader’s attention to situations that can
arise if communication channels, project information and requirement sources
are not correctly identified at the outset.
“It then becomes highly probable that critical project information will
be hidden because key informal or indirect sources of information that
can contribute a wealth of input to the project are not identified.”
This illustrates the importance of peer-level communications to ensure that
support for the IT investment decision and the project itself is secured and
“A lack of sideways (peer-level) communications and collaboration
between these parties will cause support for the project to wane. Where
people feel isolated or are excluded from the project’s decisions, they
will turn their attention elsewhere and their support will be lost.”
Through the organizations corporate profile, pertinent parties are identified who
will become the primary communication sources and to accurately identify who
needs to receive what information.
“Having profiled the organizations top level decision makers and
primary sources for project communications, the second task is to
identify the recipients of these communications.”
The section deals with external parties that may impact or be affected by the
project. They are often inadvertently excluded from project communications
and requirements sourcing and the final production system is therefore at risk of
not satisfying their needs and business requirements.
“These external parties need to be profiled for user and project
requirements and to also be included in project communications since
they could impact the outcome of a project in terms of requirements or
Excluding employees based on inferior or subordinate positions can cost the
“This is the reason why an organization must establish clear, honest and
open communications with its employees encouraging their input and
feedback. Users at the grassroots level of an organization are often
closer to its customers than is assumed.”
Formal communication channels are vital to ensure that communications,
actions and decisions are recorded and are carried out as intended.
“The departments, functions, executives and users that will be impacted
by the change need to be identified for specific communications in order
to obtain their input. Project communications at this level needs to be
top-down and bottom-up with an effective formal mechanism in place to
give, receive and manage feedback and also to solicit input.”
13 Gaining Support for the Project
quot;Lead, follow, or get out of the wayquot;
To highlight the importance and the impact of securing and sustaining
executive, stakeholder and user support for the IT investment decision and for
the project. The critical role of managements factors and how they influence
user support and adoption of the final production system.
The importance of gaining organization-wide support for the investment
decision and the project.
“The decision to invest in a new IT system must have full executive,
management and stakeholder support as well as the support of the entire
organization and users that will be affected.”
When management and project decisions are made in isolation they will often
not be fully supported by the parties that will be impacted.
“As correct as it may be for senior management to make IT investment
decisions, they still need to ensure that they have the full support of
their management teams and staff. Therefore, before making the final
investment decision, all appropriate managers need to be identified to
ensure that they do in fact support the project.”
The critical role that user involvement plays in supporting the project is
“Soliciting and including user input to formulate system requirements at
the project’s inception will therefore ensure that a user-friendly and
fully functional system that satisfies their requirements is delivered. It
will also ensure that “user ownership” is established early on in the
Highlights once again the point that full executive and management support
must be secured and that the relevant parties need to be involved in the decision
making process. If users perceive that management does not support the project
then their support will also be lost.
“If users “perceive” that management’s attitude and support for the
system is weak, or if management fails to secure their involvement at
the outset, end user support for the system will diminish as will their
desire to utilize and fully adopt the system.”
14 Managing Change
“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress”
Idenfiying and overcoming various types of organizational resistance that can
occur with IT change and how to manage and minimize resistance. To
introduce basic change frameworks and processes.
Executives don’t always factor in the significant role that resistance to change
can have on their projects and organizations because their decision process
excludes critical parties and people.
“They reason that there should be no resistance to its execution because
the benefits that the new IT system will deliver to the organization, its
employees and users far outweigh any temporary discomfort that may
be experienced during the transition.”
There are good and bad approaches to managing resistance to change, each of
which is explained.
“If resistance to change persists, an organization can “command” the
change. However, it is better to firstly secure support from the majority
of the organization or to ensure that some of the change resisters have
been converted into change supporters.”
Identifying the informal power plays that can occur within an organization and
the roles that they have in identifying resistance and support for change.
“Even though these supportive individuals are reliant on those self-
appointed parties in order to function, they do not enjoy or benefit from
the social transaction. They will therefore welcome the opportunity to
be released from such dependencies. In fact they are likely to relish the
demise of these self-appointed power holders.”
The reader will recognize the list of symptoms such as the example below.
“Dead Wood – these are people who have been with an organization for
many years and perform their tasks extremely well. They are reluctant to
share their hard-won knowledge fearing a loss of power, control and
security when their power-base of knowledge becomes obsolete.”
Managing change and the science of Change Management require specific
skills. This function must be managed by a vigilant expert or team of experts.
“Being proficient and diligent at administering change frameworks and
processes requires a high level of expertise and hands-on experience that
not all organizations possess, (let alone managers having sufficient time
to ensure that the change process is properly adhered to and
Popular change models and processes and how they can be adapted to suit
various situations are discussed.
“Lewin’s “Unfreezing, Moving, Refreezing” model starts off by
unfreezing the organization for the changes ahead. This is done by
unfreezing the current situation or status quo and identifying change
resistance components. This is based upon the notion that the two
opposing force fields, (a) resistance and (b) support for change, need to
be identified and addressed.”
15 Solution and Vendor Selection Framework
quot;Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignoredquot;
To understand that vendor and solution selection is another critical decision
process requiring management’s full attention. Considering that vendors and
their solutions will reamain part of the organization into the future,
organizations need to be rigorous about their needs being based on the
organizations full requirements rather than what a few people decide is needed.
Vendor selection can be complicated by over-zealous sales people and the high
stakes involved. The reader’s attention is drawn to objective business-oriented
factors to be considered in ther selection process.
“A vendor must always be selected based on their core business being in
the system, service or technology that they are proposing.”
There are many common strategies for vendor selection and some of the
potential pitfalls are highlighted.
“Mandating a single source supplier to minimize the number of vendor
relationships an organization needs to manage is a common practice but
it can also be a costly mistake.”
A real world example of the unfortunate consequences of an incorrect vendor
selection is analyzed. Throughout the book the reader is presented with
examples and case studies that they can easily relate to.
“During my interview with a large telecommunications organization it
became apparent that incorrect vendor selection, lack of
communications and inaccurate requirements were prevalent in one of
their IT projects”
Necessary and much needed vendor supplied system training can be
inadvertently omitted from the full cost of a solution. The long term benefits of
wise investments in vendor training is highlighted.
“Although training may appear to be excessively expensive, training
users to operate and use the system proficiently will pay dividends when
it comes to user adoption.”
All too often a vendor’s superior knowledge in their IT product category causes
organizations to delegate responsibilities and decisions to them. These decision
must remain in-house otherwise the vendor will have control of the project.
“The following caveats need to be established and rigorously adhered to
in order to ensure that an organization manages its project and vendors
and not the other way around.”
The reader may not be aware of the benefits of appointing a VMO to assist in
vendor selection and management.
“Alternatively if the budget allows, one may appoint a VMO (Vendor
Management Organization) to manage and control vendors and to assist
with the IT investment decision. Considering that VMO’s interact with
IT vendors regularly and have a strong current knowledge of vendors
and their solutions, they are often better placed to negotiate pricing,
quality, vendor commitment, expertise and to select a solution that’s
aligned with business initiatives.”
The reader needs to be aware of the changing vendor landscape which (through
acquisitions) may cause vendors’ capabilities to alter dramatically in a very
“Since many vendors have diversified their product and service
offerings by bundling consulting services with hardware and software,
(for example HP’s merger with EDS), a more thorough knowledge of
technology to address an organization’s requirements is required when
making an IT investment.”
16 Training and Development
“Folklore and rumor are inadequate means of spreading information about
how to use a computer system”
The critical role of adequate system and process training and development and
how it impacts on successful user adoption of the sytem.
The importance of training gap analysis, adequate training investment and
follow-up confirmation of training outcomes is emphasised.
“In order to increase the probability of an IT implementation
succeeding, these three critical training issues must be fully addressed:”
An unfortunate and all too common result of inadequate training is poor user
adoption of a perfectly good system.
“These are critical factors that can result in a lack of user adoption
thereby creating a technology mismatch whereby the new system is
viewed as a ‘white elephant’.”
The reader will relate to examples given that underscore the issues that are
“As an example the telecommunications organization mentioned earlier,
implemented a sales system but omitted to provide their staff with cross
selling and up-selling sales skills resulting in them not achieving the
results that they expected from the system.”
17 Succeeding at Corporate Profiling
“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can't get them across, your ideas won't
get you anywhere”
The framework and processes are summarized and clarified.
The diagram below and the contents of this chapter should be referred to prior
to initiating a project which is the moment that contracts are signed and
“This final chapter summarized the profiling concepts that have been
covered to create a conceptual framework for an organization’s current
and future IT projects”
The following is the essence of corporate profiling.
“The three key principles of corporate profiling, Visibility,
Collaboration and Accountability underpin the three integral elements
of the Pre-investment IT Project Framework namely Dissect
(unbundling), Analyze (Announce, Ask and Answer), Decide
(Document and Do).
Hopefully the reader will see the “common sense” approach in the many
examples that I use to illustrate the points that I make.
“For example, deciding on which vendors will be requested to submit
proposals is more likely to be correct where those accountable for
gathering the requirements at the outset are made accountable for this
18 otable IT Project Failures
“Failure is not a single, cataclysmic event. You don't fail overnight. Instead,
failure is a few errors in judgment, repeated every day”
Two well documented project failures that the reader is likely to relate to.
Microsoft Windows® Vista is a highly controversial example of a failed project
“Microsoft’s dominance with Windows Vista and its successor versions
of Windows is unlikely to falter. Any other project that did not have
such support or so much at stake would almost certainly have been
euthanized because of (a) the massive budget blow-out, (b) repeated
missed deadlines and most importantly (c) not meeting customer
Palm Inc. over-committed and did not deliver on promises made. In fact they
actually have finally surprised the pundits with their recent announcement of
their Web/OS and the Palm Pre. The big question is whether Palm will survive
and speculation of a takeover is rife in the industry.
“The project that was conceived to deliver Cobalt was intended to
maintain PalmOne’s market leadership position through the support of
this community. This external value chain of software developers was
vital to their success and had they profiled and disciplined their
organization to not only heed but support this value chain their fortunes
may not have waned as they have.”
“The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who
try to do nothing and succeed”
A discussion on the status quo and why the changes that I recommend are
needed in order to minimize the incidence of IT project failures.
The consequence of not applying Corporate profiling.
“Even with proven project management methodologies in use, it’s sad to
see that there is no end in sight to failed corporate IT projects and the
extraordinary waste of time, money and resources mostly with
disastrous outcomes. The careers of good people fall by the wayside and
the reputations of sound companies are tarnished not to mention the
losses to shareholders”
Reminding the reader of the root causes of IT Project failures.
“The key issue that is at the heart of IT project failures is simply a lack
of accountability by chief or senior executives for their IT investment
and pre-implementation planning process decisions.”
Thinking outside the scope of the book to impress on the reader the broad scope
of similar issues in other types of projects.
“Consider the Airbus 380 that experienced major holdups because
wiring looms did not fit correctly. It then becomes immediately clear
that project failures are not the exclusive domain of IT and that projects
of any description can suffer from the same fate for the same common
reasons when corporate profiling is not undertaken”