IT Programme Failure – 60% of the time, it works every time. A write up of our last event.

Last month Fruition IT hosted a round table discussion event, in conjunction with the Change Management consultancy Axiologik. The evening was facilitated by a panel of experts, and attended by Senior IT Leaders from the Yorkshire area.

The discussion centred around IT Programme Failure, and the statistic quoted in the title, that only around 2 out of every 3 IT Programmes in the last 20 years has been deemed successful.

As the panel would start the discussion by revealing, this stat may be somewhat optimistic. According to McKinsey, on average large projects run 45% over budget, 7% over time, and deliver 56% less value than anticipated. Even worse a statistic, from the Standish Chaos Report, 52% of all IT projects are challenged, and 19% are failed. That’s a success rate of just 1 in 3!

Our panel drew some parallels with the construction industry, reminding us of examples of failed building projects from the past, with horror stories of swinging bridges and long overdue skyscrapers. Comparing these with modern construction projects, e.g. the speed at which Central Square was erected, an impressive new Leeds development. Could it be that the construction industry no longer needs as much of an R&D lead time? What used to require a huge amount of planning, design and engineering, now seems to arrive on the back of a series of flatbed trucks and is assembled as if it were Meccano. What’s more, if a certain size support structure has been specified, that’s what is delivered, as the risks are clear and understood. How many of us have experienced interference in IT projects, where we are left needing to deliver the same systems, but without the level of resources requested? Another contrast is the repeatable nature of projects in other industries, where the same materials, people and processes can be used in a different location, compared to the ever changing and complex nature of IT.

Going on to discuss the complexity of technology, (and agreeing that not one of us in the room could thoroughly explain how an iPhone works), the conversation turned to whether there was ever enough time to properly plan technology projects, or whether most organisations are keen to start work ASAP, setting themselves up for risk of failure. With the amount of uncertainty associated with new IT implementations, should we be making sure we spend more time working out the best approach (this was referenced on the evening as “measure twice, cut once”), whilst also working hard to improve how we manage uncertainty. Introducing the concept of ASAP into a timetable is interesting, and many of us had examples of requirements around time being more strongly enforced than those around quality or scope, and then the project deemed a failure, despite delivering on time. This is also where Agile delivery can be misunderstood by the business, where project teams are getting a Minimum Viable Product released in record time, only for it to be heavily criticised based on quality and scope. How do we agree on what a MVP looks like? It’s likely to mean different things to different stakeholders.

Then we turned to how we measure success, and discussed the situation in which a Programme has failed to deliver business value, despite the IT element being deemed successful. All projects deliver change, and it’s often the change management piece that is overlooked, in the hope that given the size of the IT spend, that this will fix the issues.

A question from our audience sparked a discussion around whether there are certain types of organisations that are more susceptible to programme failure, and the consensus was that if a company thinks that IT is separate to their core business, the risk of failure soars. It’s often in this situation that a 3rd party are assigned the projects to deliver, which moved our discussion to failings where 3rd party systems integrators are brought in…

The panel and audience agreed that where delivery is outsourced, there is often a lack of investment in internal programme and supplier management, to drive the 3rd parties to deliver and also prepare the business to the point that the programme is accepted and delivers value. Even the IT consultants and Systems Integrators in the room agreed that organisations should own as much of their Programme as possible, invest in strong internal Programme and Change management expertise, and avoid the temptation to rely heavily on 3rd parties for the majority of their programme lifecycle.

Overall we enjoyed a healthy discussion, lively in parts, and well facilitated by the panel of experts.

We’d like to thank everyone that attended, and especially our panel of experts –

If you weren’t there, look out for an invitation to the next Fruition Top Table event – which will follow on from last week’s failure discussion, and take us into recovery.

Contact Martin Jones for further information or to register interest – Martin.Jones@fruitionit.co.uk or 0113 323 9735

Fruition IT are a Leeds based Technology and Change Recruitment Agency. If you’re looking for your next challenge, or looking to hire, please contact us to discuss how we can help.