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January 20, 2017

Prove the naysayers wrong: how to avoid IT project failures

Are IT projects doomed to fail? Rocket Software's Martyn Davies looks at how you can break the trend and ensure project success.

By Ellie Burns

Analysts and researchers on both sides of the pond agree: IT deployments are statistically doomed to fail. The Standish Chaos Report stated that only 16.2 per cent of software projects are completed on time and on budget, while Gartner has projected a near 100 per cent fail rate for cloud ERP projects by 2018. IT project failure inevitably means financial loss—not just from the investment in the system but through the resulting lack of productivity, potential loss of customers, and damage to business reputation. That’s why it’s important to do everything possible to ensure that implementations are successful the first time.

According to the Standish Report, the reasons for project failure include incomplete and changing requirements, lack of executive support, technology incompetence, unrealistic expectations, unclear objectives and unrealistic time frames. With those reasons in mind, here is our four-point guide to avoiding the pitfalls.

 

Smart planning

No matter what the installation may be, the criteria for success are the same:

– it works
– it meets the project deliverables
– users can get value from the system without a big learning curve;
– the project comes in on budget;
– it shows a return on investment at a predetermined point.

With those five points as a goal, it’s a good idea to work backwards and map the project lifecycle to realistic timeframes. There should be milestones along the way and an understanding of potential risks: make sure you explore all the “what ifs,” and include a plan should they occur.

 

Data strategy

Any deployment will involve data. For organisations without a Chief Data Officer (CDO), now is the time to get one. The importance of C-Suite involvement in the implementation must not be underestimated. An IT project is no longer a stand-alone event; it permeates the organisation and requires executive support.

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Gartner reported in October 2016 on the delay in big data projects coming to fruition: only 15 per cent of businesses reported progressing their big data project beyond the pilot stage into production. It suggests two reasons for this: a) many big data projects don’t have a tangible ROI, and b) a lack of effective business leadership or involvement in data initiatives. It also says that too many big data projects are built with ad-hoc technologies in mind rather than production-level reliability. The CDO will have a clear objective of what the organisation intends to do with the data and how that will provide ROI, working together with the IT project manager to determine how this will become a reality.

 

Security and governance

While security may not be an initial criterion for the success of a deployment, it certainly does have a critical impact on its ongoing success. With tougher legislation such as The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the horizon, businesses must pay attention to policies and procedures where data protection is concerned. Even without the threat of fines for non-compliant systems, we live in a world where cyber threats are omnipresent and can bring an organisation to its knees. Security has to be part of the plan.

IT project failure

Communication

The Standish Report cites user involvement as the top factor for project success. Early and continuous engagement of system users, operations teams and stakeholders throughout the organisation will help garner support, understanding and adoption. They need to know the objectives, timeframes and what is expected of them. They may require training during and after the implementation, and will need documentation they can refer to.

According to industry experts and history, deployment failure is more likely than success. But yours does not have to support the statistics. Understanding the potential obstacles and making a robust plan that includes the four points outlined will give you a greater chance of implementing a successful project the first time around.

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