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Seven Reasons IT Projects Fail

Avoiding these pitfalls will help ensure success

Avoiding these pitfalls will help ensure success
Illustration by Jude Buffum

It’s interesting to explore the reasons IT projects fail. It immediately raises the converse question: Why do they succeed? Perhaps that’s the more important question. For that reason, it’s not enough to only examine reasons for an IT project’s failure but what can be done to improve the chances of success on future projects.

According to “Improving IT Project Outcomes by Systematically Managing and Hedging Risk,” a 2009 IDC report by Dana Wiklund and Joseph C. Pucciarelli, 25 percent of IT projects fail outright. Meanwhile, 20 to 25 percent don’t provide ROI and up to 50 percent require material rework.

Sound familiar? You’ve probably observed projects that, even if they weren’t outright failures, didn’t meet their financial objectives or required significant rework in at least one area.

In reviewing literature on project management, some factors emerge that influence the success or failure of a project (see “Five Areas Influencing Project Success or Failure”).

By categorizing documented causes of IT project failure, a majority—54 percent—are attributed to project management. Surprisingly to some, technical challenges are the least-cited factor at 3 percent.

Project management disciplines have been a part of IT for many years. So why are so many challenges still directly associated with how a project is managed? The issues often boil down to seven main reasons for project failure. By delving deeper and identifying potential pitfalls, we can see what can be done to avoid these missteps and improve the chance of success.

1. Poor Project Planning and Direction

Improving project planning and direction is one of the key factors in IT project success. This requires a method made up of rules, processes and tools for project planning and management, supported by a software tool. It’s important to remember the Four Ps—pilot, phase, parallel and plunge—and, certainly, don’t plunge under any circumstance.

A vital part of planning is to assign the right people to the right task and make clear assignments to team members, with defined goals and responsibilities. When assignments don’t work out, adjust roles as necessary.

54 percent of IT project failures can be attributed to project management, whereas only 3 percent are attributed to technical challenges.

Joseph Gulla is the IT leader of Alazar Press, an imprint of Royal Swan Enterprises. Previously, he was an executive IT specialist at IBM ending his 28-year career with the company in August 2012.

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