Why do so many IT projects fail?
By Hylton Ferreira
This is a question that has been written about and deliberated upon countless times over the past years. Project approaches for successful delivery are determined by, at least in part, the make-up and size of the organization, and required project deliverables.
Historically, project failure rates in the IT sector have been significant, as outlined in this article by Peter Gordon, which cites a well-researched and documented report by the Standish Group which included 80 000 IT projects over a 25 year period. The report documents reasons for project failure, including non-adherence to budgets, overdue schedules, poor quality, user involvement, lack of executive support and clear business objectives, resources, project management skills, or emotional immaturity. Many smaller, community based not-for-profit (NFP) organizations face increased exposure to these pitfalls with their IT projects due to constrained resources and the challenges of obtaining professional project management services to support their projects.
pm-volunteers.org™ (PM-V) is a leader in mobilizing skilled volunteer project management services for charitable community non-profit organizations. In recent years, several local NPOs in the Lower Mainland of BC have engaged volunteer project management professionals through PM-V to provide project advisory and implementation support for their critical IT projects. These organizations have recognized that working with a skilled project manager can positively impact the outcome of their IT projects, mitigating some of the major risks outlined in the Standish Group’s study. Myrna Holman, executive director for bc211, is testimony that perceptions do change as she refers to their new Information Management System Implementation project.
When I learned about PM-V I was a bit skeptical. Would this organization really be able to provide a volunteer project manager who was up to the task? We were very grateful when (project manager) Shawn Hawkins signed on. It’s really quite something to get such a commitment from a volunteer like Shawn who has years of project management experience to share with us. He has been instrumental in keeping us on track. He delivered a solid project plan and a risk register. Beyond project management he has been a mentor to many of us and he took the time to meet individually with our entire project team”.
Presenting his Lessons Learned on the bc211 project, seasoned project manager Shawn Hawkins highlighted the commitment of bc211’s executive director as a major driver that enabled project success. He analyzed the strategic plan, recommended a suitable project implementation timeline, and identified key stakeholder expectations at the initiation stage of the project.
User involvement was critical to drive successful project delivery; therefore, meetings and informal information sessions were conducted on all levels to gain a clear understanding of the history of the project, to identify key staff for the project implementation process, and to initiate a risk screening process. All information gathered was filtered according to importance to reflect clarity in achieving the business objectives.
Project success requires a dedicated leadership equipped with project management expertise and experience in order to discern what project approach and tools to adopt to overcome particular challenges. For bc211, Shawn developed a high-level project plan aided by the latest project management software. This process allowed for the users of the new Information Management System to be involved in the project implementation and enhanced the sense of ownership among the users. Emphasis was put on training to allow for post-implementation continuity, supported by a Project Completion Report for future bc211 leaders. Shawn’s enthusiasm and commitment to the project reaped considerable rewards in the success of the project. He values his association with bc211 and PM-V and, more significantly, Shawn demonstrated the ability to empower people with knowledge, preparing them to face future project challenges. He says, “…the legacy will be not only a new IMS, but also a team versed in the project management discipline and committed to applying it across the board as their organization grows. On another level, I get to showcase the outrageously successful PM-V approach, connecting non-profit organizations with project managers who get the opportunity to broaden their professional experience and give back to their community. How great is that?”
A Successful Project Outcome
The successful implementation of bc211’s Information Management System can be attributed to extensive and thorough project planning work and a commitment from bc211‘s management team to ensure all measures were in place for a successful implementation. A project plan that included extensive training on the new system also played a pivotal part in ensuring the project’s success.
From the project manager’s perspective, Shawn stated that the value of a great project sponsor should never be under-estimated. He furthermore was of the opinion that flexible project management practices wins over inflexible approaches hands down. Communication is vital to achieve project success and must be practiced on multi-dimensional levels.
Many local non-profit organizations will continue to face challenges with their IT projects due to funding constraints and rising stakeholder needs and expectations. Some of these organizations will, like bc211, choose to reach out to the project management community for assistance and support. When these connections happen and projects succeed, there is a rich legacy of benefits for the non-profit organization, the volunteer project manager and for the greater community.
About the Author
Enthused by the developments in project management and technology, Hylton keeps up to date, writes and shares articles on project management trends via numerous social media platforms and blogs. His passion for the project management profession comes from over fifteen years of managing projects in the Electricity and Telecommunication Industry’s in Namibia, responsible for improving customer satisfaction, stakeholder management, contracts, and quality assurance. He successfully managed the implementation of voice and data packaged telecommunication solutions to corporates and was instrumental in the expansion of the national rural electricity backbone network in Namibia. Hylton, a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), holds a senior position with the GIVE Group, an organization that benefits charities through real-estate sales. He is also a certified WikiBuddy, engaged in development of free online education content for WikiEducator.
PM-V is a grassroots initiative which connects skilled professional project managers with not-for-profit organizations, building project management capacity in the not for profit sector while giving back to the community. To date, project management professionals have volunteered and given back over 5000 hours of service, supporting 80 community projects. Go to www.pm-volunteers.org for more information.