Thursday, 16 May 2013

What to do when your projects keep failing


Failing, over-running and budget-crashing projects are causing businesses billions in lost revenue.

Businesses up and down the land are wasting tens of billions of hard-earned resources in projects that run late, cost more than they should or fail altogether. 

A British Computer Society study in to project failure by Dr John McManus and Dr Trevor Wood-Harper looked in detail at 214 big IT projects over a period of seven years and found  nearly a quarter of all projects  (23.8 per cent) were cancelled  before they even got off the ground.

A more recent IDC report shows that things aren’t getting any better “Improving IT Project Outcomes by Systematically Managing and Hedging Risk,” by Dana Wiklund and Joseph C. Pucciarelli, revealed that 25 per cent of IT projects fail outright. Meanwhile, 20 to 25 per cent don’t provide ROI and up to 50 per cent require material rework.

The knee jerk reaction is to blame the problem on the programmers and the coders. However when you dig down into the figures however you find that it’s not the IT that’s at fault or the people creating and testing the code, it’s actually project management where the problem lies. The statistics show that 54 per cent of IT project failures can be attributed to project management, whereas only 3 per cent are attributed to technical challenges.

The obvious solution therefore is to do something about the project management, but what?  The answer according to an in-depth study “The Benefits of Training and Certification” by analysts IDC is to invest in training.

The IDC research shows (see graph above) an undeniably tight correlation between training, team skill, and project success and the research found that the three most important variables for predicting project success were;

  • The overall skill level of project teams
  • The percentage of project budget spent on training
  • The number of hours of training per team member

Increasing or reducing any of the three variables would directly have an impact on the project success. Projects allocating 7% of the budget to training were significantly more successful than projects where only 4% of the budget went to training In fact, managers of IT project teams that meet most or all of their objectives provided each team member with 40% more training than managers of teams that achieve little or only some success.

The numbers required don’t need to be that significant; when preparing for a project, teams receiving 40 hours of training per member met their significant project objectives three times as often as teams that received 30 hours of training or less.

Finally the report also looked at the type of training that the teams received and found that there was also a close correlation between project success and certification.  

The research found that every relevant certification increases a teams performance with an "average" team performance achieved only when more than 40% of the team (see graph above) is certified, with 100% success rates achieved when over 60% of the team achieved certification.

The report should be a wakeup call to anyone embarking on a large IT project – or for that matter any large project.  If you want success then get your staff trained to expert level and make sure they have the certificates to prove it, if you don’t then be prepared for the same old failures, over runs and costs spiralling through the roof. 

About the Author:
Stefano is the co-founder and head of strategy education at Firebrand Training. He has 20 years experience in IT operations and services support, and worked in financial markets supporting IT infrastructures.