Why Technology Projects Really Fail
by Sharon Flemings

Every year, companies spend millions and millions of dollars investing in technology projects with the expectation they will improve operations, save money or otherwise realize improvements in the organization. The results, however, indicate that the intended outcomes are not achieved. How can it be that so much investment produces so little improvement?

There is a lot of literature available describing why technology projects fail. Among the myriad reasons are: project status reporting is not sufficient, cost overruns, management support is lacking - the list goes on. You may be aware that The Standish Group periodically measures the success rates of IT projects in their “Chaos Report”, and last April actually reported a decrease in the success of these projects. In the 2009 report, only 32% of projects were delivered on time, on budget, and with the required features and functions, down from 35% in the 2006 study. What’s going on here?

Houston, We Have a Problem…

The Chaos Report (http://www1.standishgroup.com/newsroom/chaos_2009.php) outlines a number of factors that allegedly lead to technology project success. I won’t spend time arguing the merits of the Chaos Report – some of the findings are relevant and criteria can be quite useful in determining what to manage and monitor during a project lifecycle. The report shows, however, that the top issues causing project failure are related to user input, incomplete/missing business requirements, and lack of executive support – all issues related to identifying and defining the business problem being solved by the investment.

While these criteria are important, the Report misses the entire point of determining whether a project is even appropriate and will address the business problem before beginning work. Real project success is achieved when the outcome of the project results in direct business benefit – whether increasing revenue/reducing cost, improving operational performance, or enhancing customer service. (Yes, even technology infrastructure projects must address these business goals.) Without directly and positively impacting one of these areas, no project can be considered successful. And, the business problem being addressed and the expected outcomes must be defined, documented and confirmed before any technology selection or development work starts.

Factors Contributing to Success

There are several factors that directly contribute to the successful implementation of technology, and organizations would be well served to consider these factors prior to initiating any effort that contains a technology component.

Technology must be an enabler of business

The implementation of any technology needs to enable business to work better and smarter, supporting the efficient accomplishment of a specific business function. If there is not a clearly defined business problem/goal under consideration, then there is no need for technology. The technology itself should never be a reason to implement, and must never get in the way of executing a well-defined, streamlined process.

While it seems silly to think that organizations would introduce technology that will slow processes down, this is exactly what happens in a number of organizations. Someone decides that technology would make things work faster and better, or someone sees technology that seems like it will help. (Salesmen are very good at making their product appear very attractive to the organization.) Before you know it, the technology is procured and implementation has begun. This is completely backward from the right way to address the problem!

These situations often cause frustration in an organization – business processes may actually slow down, users find a way not to use a technology, staff find a work-around because the system does not function as needed, or the system is never fully implemented in a production environment. Technology should not get in the way of business – it should only be there to enable business to function more effectively.

Technology must be appropriate for the function intended

The selected technology must be appropriate for the business problem being solved. It is very easy to overspend on technology – especially if you have a sales person helping you decide what you require! Consider the job to be done, and invest only in enough technology to accomplish the goal. It is not necessary to implement an entire content management system when all you need to do is scan and archive documents. Remember the KISS principle – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Technology must not be implemented without consideration of the business practices it will impact

When considering additional/upgrading automation supporting a business process, it is imperative that organizations consider the impacts on the business process itself. Particularly for those processes going from a manual to an automated process, it is critical that a review of the process be performed to determine whether the application of technology provides the opportunity to perform the process in a different manner. The introduction of technology into a manual process allows an organization to completely redefine how that particular process can be performed. Often, however, organizations simply end up automating bad process. The result? They do bad things faster.

If you are considering new technology, or an upgrade to existing technology – stop. You must be able to clearly articulate the business problem you are trying to solve, and consider whether the technology will allow your organization to accomplish the impacted processes in a more efficient and cost-effective manner. If you cannot do that, you have no reason to even start.

Related articles:
Understand the Current State
Identifying the Strategic Processes
The Right Use of Enterprise Architecture

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