Why do IT projects so often fail to meet their objectives?

by Heath Ragg

After nearly 25 years as an IT professional, of which over 20 years have been intimately involved with project delivery, I often get asked, “why do IT projects fail to meet their objectives?’.

You might correctly have guessed that this question is normally asked at the wrong end of a project, maybe during a review, or at the start of a rescue engagement.

So, with COVID-19 raising even higher the need for IT projects to succeed, I’m really excited to start an open conversation to help you try to avoid the common failures that I see on a day-to-day basis. These considerations are worthy from all angles of IT transformation, such as:

  • Preparing to roll out a new business system (like ERP or CRM) and wanting to make sure IT supports it
  • Addressing that ‘Board’ security initiative
  • Implementing a ‘work from anywhere’ solution
  • Adopting Microsoft Office 365 / GoogleSuite
  • Refreshing your workstation fleet

Of course, the question of “Where did we go wrong?” normally has some context associated to allow a tailored answer. However, in my Project Governance role there are some base building blocks that we’ve identified as common traits to IT trouble. In the following sections, I’m going to explore some of these in the hope that my insight and experience can assist you to understand and avoid common traps.

 

IT changes need a business case too

Unfortunately, “IT” is still seen as a necessary evil, and ‘something’ that has to be done, but usually not really important to the actual business. All too often, IT is the secondary responsibility of  someone on the executive team. As with any initiative that requires effort, if not given a strong identity and reason for enactment, IT change will go off the rails – and spectacularly.

By embracing IT initiatives at the executive level, a new level of authority and imperative is given, and success bolstered. Lack of executive sponsorship has the exact opposite effect.

IT initiatives must be able to stand on their own and provide:

  • Clear ROI; be it financial, operational or risk mitigation
  • Defined, tracked and measurable outcomes
  • Accountability

 

Keep the business engaged

Once the business case is approved, make sure the enabling team is reporting back into the business. You need to provide a business sponsor to keep your organisation engaged and directed at the objectives established in the business case. In my opinion, the most important role of the Business Sponsor is to make sure that Organisational Change Management Plan exists, is well communicated, and is ultimately a success.

 

Does your business have its IT strategy defined?

There is a real need for the business to provide high level guidance for your IT operations and projects. You’ll be amazed at how often the ‘important expectations’ are not set. The big questions here to help define the ‘how to’ of IT are:

  • Is ‘designed with security in mind’ a guiding principle? Big hint – this should be mandatory!
  • What’s your preferred financial model – OpEx or CapEx?
  • Cloud or on-premise? Sales guys will say ‘Cloud is the only way’ but is it right for business? Most likely the answer is yes, but does that really hold true for you?
  • Is data sovereignty a concern? By this, do you or your customers have a need for the data to be within your local region as some Cloud solution providers are not operating in Australia / NZ?
  • Are your compliance / corporate governance needs embedded?

Have frameworks been adopted to leverage other organisations prior learnings, and to optimise your chance of success? This should become the basis for a planning and a maturity model roadmap – most IT initiatives are commodity based and have strong adoption methods to ensure success. IT is not a R&D initiative…

Can you manage and measure IT change?

The business case will have identified the required outcomes, but are you set up to understand what you are going to change, and how you will measure the results? There are some base building blocks that modern IT management expects to be in place so that promised efficiencies will be achieved. If you don’t have the basics in place then your project will struggle, and ongoing operations will be inefficient.

 

IT Asset Management

If you don’t know what you have, how do you affect change effectively? You can’t…

Organisations benefit significantly by having a single source of truth of their corporate assets, especially IT assets.

The implications of not having this under control extends beyond financial penalties and failed audits. They extend to ineffectual planning, lack of control, as well as ongoing operational, cyber security and audit issues.

At the very basic level, you should have in place an asset management solution that tracks hardware and software within your organisation. It’s important that this tool has the ability to auto-discover new assets, capture changes and audit. These are basic functions provided in the common tools available in the market, and they should be a part of your IT command and control DNA.

If IT audit is still a manual task within your organisation, then I’d challenge your perception that your asset list is up actually to date. It’s more than likely that your expensive IT support staff are spending their time inefficiently on something that’s reasonably easy to automate. While this is low hanging fruit, it’s something that frequently becomes an issue.

 

Service Management – ITIL

Apologies up front. ITIL is often considered really boring. And while even an ugly infographic describing the benefits may not change your mind, it will be enough to draw your attention to importance of what ITIL delivers.

 

 

This conversation requires recognition that you can’t ignore the lack of a strong tool to underpin IT change. So let’s explore further...

A modern (ITIL compliant) service desk will track, identify and manage IT change as well as support ‘business as usual’ support. Centralised service management provides a single source of truth to track change, identify trends and transform the response available to the project team.

With a system in place, 24x7 availability to access support becomes available. This includes access to self-help articles and self-service requests. Common practice now includes using common learning engines / artificial intelligence (AI) powered hub, which provides chat capability and suggested solutions without staff intervention.

Real-time ticket management KPIs will enable your service delivery manager to continuously improve user satisfaction when users provide feedback on any interaction, whether it is simply asking about status, making an update, or creating a new ticket.  

Service management provides end-to end service management capabilities throughout the service delivery lifecycle, from request capture to remediation. Automated workflows eliminate costly manual processes while making operations more efficient, compliant, and secure. Again, this frees your staff to do more with less…

If service management is not in place, your ability to track and measure become subjective. But more importantly, projects and operational costs blow out.

 

Reporting = success – you need a ‘Single Pane of Glass’

The tools outlined bring together complete command and control for your IT environment. This provides rapid insight, and point in time information to steer IT initiative.

Measuring success is vital in achieving success…

Centralised reporting creating a single pane of glass will provide a unified IT experience, in real-time and with minimal effort. Such reporting is a cornerstone in the modern IT shop, yet its omission is  common.

Common examples of what you should expect include:

Security Controls

Software License Discovery

Service Desk KPIs

Help Desk Trends

Laptop Warranty

Discovered Printers

Patching Activity

Escalations

Automate IT to save time, remove bottlenecks, reduce risk and empower your business

A big secret in IT operations is that a vast majority of the busy tasks are repetitive (and boring). Enable your IT team to provide more value to your organisation by insisting on implementing as much automation as possible.

It’s a common issue. Demand for IT services have outpaced the resources to deliver them, resulting in frustrated and unproductive workers and stretched / stressed IT teams. There is a growing list of requirements for IT, such as supporting the mobile worker, maintaining a secure digital workspace, provisioning new cloud-based resources and complying with internal governance policies and government regulations. You need to have the tools in place to free up time to make sure these tasks can be done, and done well.

Routine labour-intensive tasks consume IT and service desk resources, limiting IT’s ability to move ahead with higher impact strategic projects. Those same manual processes have the potential to be inconsistently implemented and prone to errors, hindering IT from being productive and enforcing policies. Automation vastly reduces the effort needed to implement change, and not having it available is a risk for your IT project success.

Common practice is to have your IT team delivering a service catalogue of support and request fulfilment. If you aren’t getting this benefit, then look to your strategy and get it on the roadmap. Start with low hanging fruit that provides high value IT function includes items such as:

  • User onboarding / offboarding
  • Add / remove supplier
  • Service requests, such as
    • Password resets / unlocks
    • Incident escalation
    • Procure new PC
    • New phone request
    • Startup / shut down developer servers
    • Point in time backups
    • Create decommission IT service
  • Automated PC builds
  • Compliance checklists
    • Portal access
    • Vendor compliance
    • Renewal notification

Final Point

There are many reasons as to why IT initiatives fail. This conversation has tried to identify just some pointers for success.

I was asked to prioritise the top common reasons that success is missed, and my experience has been:

  1. We aren’t inventing the wheel here – if it’s really hard and complex, rethink and seek help
  2. The organisation doesn’t have in place the base tools to support and report on change
  3. Automation was not used to support large scale IT change.

This is a topic I’m passionate about – I’d appreciate your comments and feedback. Hopefully we’ll build a better IT project future, and help others learn from our failures.

 

Heath Ragg - Head Coach, Fusion5 Enterprise Services

Get in touch on LinkedIn

Contact

Great outcomes start with great conversations.