Why Projects Fail – Part 2

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Jon Fullinwider

Jon Fullinwider

Following up on the last entry that IT projects fail at a far too alarming rate in government, I have identified seven factors that individually or in combination lead to project failures or projects that may be completed but never achieve the business objectives identified. In the latter case, a project that is technicaly completed but is viewed as not effective in delivering an end-user solution will be perceived as a failure by the people essential to its success (i.e., the end-user). Ultimately, management will see the project as a failure and come to believe that once again IT has failed to deliver on its promise! Wow, why do we in IT continue to find ourselves in this situation? Well, we need to go back and assess the fundamentals of an IT project. First, any IT project must be about a business solution. And if we are going to talk about a business solution, then we must assume that the champion for the business solution is someone in the business unit and not someone in the IT organization. While it is hard to argue against this premise, all too often after the IT project is initiated with the support of a key executive in the business unit, it is pushed down several organizational layers in the business unit and ultimately to the IT organization who has no authority to effect business process change within the business unit. This leads to the premise that key to any IT project success is focused and consistent project oversight at the executive level within the organization. If the executive sponsor is not involved or has delegated the project to individuals several layers below him/her and only periodically receives project updates they should not be surprised when they get an update that the project is failing or under severe distress. Executive project commitment is essential! If you don’t have it and the project is becoming an IT, not a business unit, project you need to have a very candid conversation with the executive you report to as to whether or not you can be successful in providing the desired IT solution to achieve the business objecive.

Over the course of the conversation on “Why Projects Fail” I will further elaborate on the remaining six areas essential to project success but all too often not understood or undertaken without the commitment to achieve the objectives necessary to ensure a successfull project. I will characterize the remaining six areas as follows:

Executive Sponsorship – (discussed above)
Project Management
Project Plan
Clear Understanding of Requirements
Customer/User Involvement/Participation
Multi-Million Dollar/Multi-Year Projects

I look forward to your comments.

Continue to Part 3, Project Management.

Continue to Part 4, The Project Plan.

Jon Fullinwider, CIO Los Angeles County, Retired

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Jon Fullinwider served for 11 years as the Chief Information Officer of the County of Los Angeles. Prior to his position with the County of Los Angeles, he served as the Chief Information Officer for the County of San Diego for 9 years where he was responsible for all information and telecommunications-based services in the fifth largest county in the United States. Before entering public service, he spent 12 years with Rockwell International where he held several executive positions providing technology-based solutions to both corporate and government customers.

5 Responses to “Why Projects Fail – Part 2”

  1. Dave says:

    Very insightful! I look forward to future installments.

  2. PM Hut says:

    The main cause of Project Failure is lack of communication. Any cause listed here or anywhere else has a root cause of lack of communication.

    Take this article that I’ve published a while ago: http://www.pmhut.com/why-projects-fail-2

    The article lists the following:

    – Executive Level non support
    – Poor project management
    – Unreasonable completion dates
    – Improper staffing
    – Poor project planning

    The root cause of any of the above is lack of communication. Of course, there are other reasons than the ones mentioned above, but they all originate, in one way or the other, from lack of communication.

  3. Felice says:

    I was once a subordinate of Jon’s when I worked for Rockwell. He tasked my supervisor at the time to implement a non-standard work week known as 3×12. It didn’t go well amongst the old timers, but turned out to eliminate overtime on the weekends. I sure enjoyed it, and thanked him personally for implementing it. Unfortunately when Jon left Rockwell, management discarded 3×12, claiming it “there was no cost savings.”

    Between my career at Boeing and the County of Riverside, I can see projects are bound to fail when management doesn’t give clear and concise direction. Before my layoff from Boeing in 2007, I was tasked on a project to transition over from analog phone systems, to VoIP. It was not an easy project, for the project manager, kept changing the requirements of the project on us. It was very ambiguous, but we managed to make the conversion on time.

    When I worked for the County of Riverside, I was assigned to update the operational procedures in the Data Center. My projects were completed ahead of schedule because I received clear and concise instructions / comments from management and my peers, within the prescribed timeframe.

  4. […] gets measured gets accomplished!  Okay, we have an Executive Sponsor (Part 2) and a Project Team (Part 3) with Jon […]

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