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Why Technology Projects Fail

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Almost all of us have fallen short of a goal at one time or another. Many projects across industries around the globe fail, with research from Teamstage finding that around 70% of projects fail to achieve their stated aims. The project process often starts with excitement, optimism and drive, but somewhere down the line, gaps emerge, mistakes get made, and targets are missed. In this piece, we explore why technology projects fail and point to remedy measures that you can take onboard to steer your projects towards their target outcomes. 

Failure itself is a difficult word to define. It can mean falling short of measurable targets, an inability to adhere to timelines, simple dysfunction, or knowing that project processes and resources could be utilized in a more effective way.  

Failure can also be a flexible concept. Sometimes having flexible objectives can lead to reassessing failures in a more productive light, where a team commits to leveraging them to revisit where there had been gaps or misestimations from the start. In this way, failures can also redirect organizations to success. This said, minor deviations are distinguishable from clear-cut crashes in the achievement of organizational aims.  

Technology failures occur quite frequently. Depending on the scope, these projects require significant resource allocations, spanning anything from weeks to years. For these kinds of projects, much is at stake, and so getting the fundamentals right makes all the difference.  

So, why do technology projects fail so frequently and in such severe ways? 

Primary Reasons Technology Projects Fail Consistently 

 

Lack of proper planning   

Planning has multiple levels and types; there are stakeholder and communication plans, resourcing plans, risk planning, scope and project initiation plans, and more. It can be helpful to review the tools that project management models – such as Prince2 – use to get a holistic set of interconnected plans in place to facilitate a flying start and finish for the project. Planning is a multiplier for effective execution and comprises an essential part of crafting a successful project.  

The complexity of the strategy that arises from planning is up to you. Projects can be complex, depending on the risks involved and the scope.  However, as a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to match the project plans’ complexity with the project’s complexity.  

Discounting the complexity  

IT projects typically involve a matrix of stakeholders working together on the project’s implementation, and this work needs to be synchronized in a seamless way to avoid stuttering lags in the project roadmap. To make this work, this complexity needs to be managed using communication and documentation so that all stakeholders can see and appreciate the role, tasks, activities and constraints they are each facing as they move the project forward together.  

A big gap in understanding here that leads to problems is that project executives, business owners and managers may not fully appreciate the complexity of the projects in progress from a range of different viewpoints. So, getting on the same page using regular meetings with clear, good documentation, which can educate and empower all parties to understand and coordinate with each other, is an important step in the project process.  

Every effort should be taken to keep the project on track, and if it veers off course due to overspending or falling behind schedule, the strategy should be adjusted to get it back on the right track. Open and continuous communication is key, because projects are dynamic and can exhibit ‘scope creep’, where the project expands in directions that may not have been planned for from the outset.  

Keeping all your staff, management, vendors, and contractors up to date on the project’s status will help ensure they are ready to fulfill their role at the right time. Likewise, having shared project directories for open and easy communications can facilitate the sharing of knowledge to advance project goals. It is important to share openly when actions get stalled, so that others can contribute their advice and skills. 

Not incorporating project management techniques 

A big one! Project management techniques are tools that help project workers to plan, organize and manage their projects in a holistic way. They differ from project management frameworks, which are often less prescriptive about the tools that should be used.  

So why is this important? Many IT projects are left in the hands of a technician who executes the work. While they will know the technical aspects inside and out, they may not be as aware of operational considerations, and the ongoing dependencies between people and the technology involved during the change, which can cause unintended frustrations and disruptions, and even mistakes that might require some backtracking.  

A designated project manager that is entrusted with the task of organizing the project in a holistic way can add the difference that makes the Difference, by consulting with stakeholders, managing resources, mapping dependencies, and implementing communication plans. In this way, they can ensure a smoother, more holistic implementation of the project.  

Another key aspect to implementing project management techniques is continued visibility and transparency. What cannot be seen, cannot be controlled. Ensuring that the wider team has access to project resources and communications can help to streamline operations, communications and correct any mistakes or gaps that are noticed. A part of making this happen is maintaining accessible, high-quality documentation.  

Insufficient budgeting  

A well-calculated project budget helps to get projects off on a sure-footing. Conversely, inadequate or uncertain financing can create a sense of uncertainty in the project, with inadequate budgeting that could result in corner-cutting or a suboptimal outcome at the project’s conclusion. By having enough resources allocated and available to the project it can proceed on a confident footing, progress steadily, and avoid uncertainty.  

Establishing wrong strategies 

Strategies are contingent on getting the details and the big picture alike: a quality strategy emerges from the alignment of the two. A problematic strategy for a project, can include creating a stakeholder engagement plan that while operationally workable, uses means (e.g., emails) and messages that will not work for some of the stakeholder groups. On a bigger level, a technology project that is misaligned with the wider objectives of the organization’s involved, can lead to friction between the technology project and the organization’s other projects, for example.  

What is a good or a bad strategy will vary by the project, the implementors, and stakeholders that are involved. Take care to make sure that strategies reflect the wider picture and the smaller details that are involved. 

Hiring inexperienced project managers 

An inexperienced project manager can seem like an attractive option, as they could be more cost-effective, but this can risk being a first step towards failure. In projects, experience particularly matters, as the experience of a honed project manager can give them the intuition and foresight to make timely interventions and decisions that might be missed by a less experienced project manager. In turn, inexperience can lead to wasted spending and drag on the project’s timeline.  

Take care to have a robust project manager sourcing process if they need to be sourced. Go beyond credentials and ask for details, references and evidence pertaining to past projects that they had worked on. Verifying the expertise of potential project managers can prove to be one of the most valuable investments you can make in the success of a project.  

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