Why Change Programs fail?

Most of the IT projects impact the way work is being done in the organisation. In order to get value or benefits from these changes, it is necessary that these system or process improvements are actually utilised and become part of the new way of doing work. This requires change management.

Transformation projects such as core systems replacement or even major outsourcing have a significant impact on the way business operates in an organisation. Here, change management becomes integral to the project success. While most IT and other senior executives understand the need for effective change management, in reality many projects fail to deliver the full potential due to the mistakes in change management. Continue reading “Why Change Programs fail?”

PMO : one size doesn’t fit all

Many CIOs are often faced with the challenge of building or upgrading the PMO. There is often a temptation to go for ‘best practice’. As result, some CIOs set the goals too high. I have seen many a organisations bogged down with PMO processes that everyone detests but without any improvement in effectiveness. Before we can talk about setting  or upgrading PMO, we need to know why your organisation needs a PMO? Because one type of PMO does not fit all organisations. Continue reading “PMO : one size doesn’t fit all”

Real Reasons why IT Projects Fail

Train WreckYou would have probably read about the Queensland Department of Health payroll project, which ended in a debacle with costs estimated at $1.2 billion. In the US, the Expeditionary Combat Support System project was cancelled after the US Air Force spent $1 billion on its development.
The sad fact is that these failures are not isolated instances, but rather, only the most visible examples.  The failure of IT projects is very common. Per industry norms, less than 50% of IT projects finish on time and on budget.
Discussions with experienced CIOs, consultants and project managers show there are many reasons for the failures of IT projects. If you step back from the individual causes, some common themes emerge. Some are obvious, but others are not well recognised.

Fuzzy Goals

Many large projects fail, because they don’t have a clear idea of what they are trying to do. There is no clear problem definition or clarity about the project requirements. The full scope of the project is not understood. One Executive has an objective, but as the project moves forward new people, such as other executives, risk managers, and architects are introduced who add their ideas of what would be best for project implementation. The net result is unclear goals, expanding project scope, and poor project design, which lead to unending debates and sliding timelines.

Over-optimism

Over OptimismSalesmen and internal project champions both want their proposal to succeed. However, in their wish to make the ‘sell’, they often underestimate the costs and over emphasise the benefits. While preparing  business cases, there is a tendency to maximise benefits and cut costs to meet the right return on investment (ROI) At times, the under-estimation is not intentional, but a result of the CIO having a poor understanding of the current situation and requirements. The CIO does not consider, or budget for, the effort to move from installing a system to actually achieving the benefits (new products, customers, new capability).
Over optimism then results in unrealistic schedules. There often is an unjustified faith in technology (product, vendor, or internal capability). Solution complexity is not evaluated. As a result, project risks are not well understood or controlled.

Complexity

ComplexityMajor IT projects have a high degree of complexity due to new technology, the myriad of interfaces with other systems, data conversion. and due to project team having to compete for resources with other projects. Many times the legacy processes have to be replicated or supported in the new system, which adds to the complexity.
What project managers (PMs) and executives do not understand is that the project risks and effort involved in the project increase exponentially as complexity increases. Systems and processes become brittle as people try to cater for this complexity in a tight timeframe and with workarounds. The complexity eventually overwhelms the PMs, and the projects go out of control.

Weak Ownership

Large projects often have multiple executives, each with slightly different agendas as stakeholders. The executives have different expectations of the project’s benefits and options, which are at times incompatible. None of the executives fully support the project, and many projects lack an effective sponsor who is accountable for the project goals, and benefits, and can arbitrate conflicting demands. Weak sponsorship also indicates weak accountability across the project. When dates slip, tasks are not completed or roadblocks emerge, and no one is held accountable to do their job, which results in the project becoming unmanageable. Weak ownership usually results in weak project control resulting in an increased chance of the project failing.

Governance

People accept that lack of governance is a reason for the failure of a project. However, most large projects have the exact opposite problem; there is too much bureaucracy. For example, in one IT project, 80% of budgeted costs were non-productive costs or red tape. In another organisation, a 3 day change request needed justification papers, and the approval of the executive steering committee, which costed more than 10 days of effort. In large organisations, stakeholders such as risk managers, compliance staff, process experts, and architects all have their own governance demands, which greatly increases the demands on the project staff.

Over-engineered Project Management

It appears that Project Management has succumbed to the modern fetish for valuing form over substance. Simply put, there is a greater focus on how we carry out the project, than on the activities, which produce the product. Below is a quote from a CIO on this over engineering:

In the past, we spent time working out how to solve a problem. We explored different avenues of approach, different ways of meeting a target. We focused on the customer’s needs and expectations. We focussed on what was to be delivered.

Nowadays, it seems that the focus is more on planning how you are to do it, coupled with a determination to adopt methodologies and standards. The result is that we spend more time planning the method and approach to the project and not working on the technical requirements of the solution and how we can deliver it. The body of documentation has greatly increased. Now we have plan, plus risk analyses, process flows, summary timelines, and all sorts of forms showing who did what, with and to whom, and when.

That gives rise to a more formally documented meetings, implying a new breed of project administrators who manage the documentation and schedule the meetings, adding to the project overhead, both in time and cost.  A second result is that the poor people at the coal face have, in addition to actually doing the work, a welter of forms to complete.

Wrong Project Manager

The major success reason for projects – large or small – is the Project Manager (PM).  Having certification as a PM is one thing, but having the ability and know-how is another. The PM has to know how to balance the needs of the project with the needs of good governance. The PM has to use the right method, apply it at the right time and in the amounts that are really needed. A PM must have knowledge of the subject of the project. This knowledge not only helps the PM drive the right solution, but also helps them to effectively communicate this solution to the business and the sponsor The notion that a qualified PM can manage any sort and size of project is twaddle.

Failure to Recognise a Troubled Project

Projects never go from being well-managed, on-budget, and on-schedule to outright failure overnight. There is always a transition period during which time the project is “troubled”. If you can cut through the noise to see the real issues, you have a window of opportunity in which the project can potentially be rescued. It is likely that this is the last chance to save the project. Since people involved in a project generally want it to succeed, they unintentionally start ignoring or dismissing the warning signs.

Using external reviewers to detect these early signs and help the sponsor take decisive action can often help rescue a troubled project.

Conclusion

Think Big, but Act Small

As shown in this article, large IT projects fail for a variety of reasons. There is insufficient space in this article to go into the details of mitigating these failures, but one last fact is worth mentioning here.

Standish group research indicates that smaller projects (agile or waterfall) have a higher success rate (76%) than larger projects (10%). Research suggests that delivering product in small doses produces positive results. So you can think big, but you need to act small by making every big project a group of small projects.

You may also be interested in Barriers to Transformation.

Written by: Hemant Kogekar

Understanding the Project Sponsor Role

Many executives become project sponsors, because they want a new product or a service to improve their business operations. Everyone expects the sponsors to know their role, and how they are supposed to work. While there are qualifications required to become a project manager (PM), there are none for a sponsor. The sponsor’s role is an important role, but what exactly are they meant to do? Continue reading “Understanding the Project Sponsor Role”

Attributes of Great Project Managers

Delivering successful projects is a key need for all businesses and IT groups alike. But as we all know, many projects fail or are only partially successful. Projects represent a large proportion of a business’s budget, so when projects don’t succeed a lot of money is wasted. Improving the chance that a project succeeds should be a goal of CIOs. Having the ‘right’ project or program manager (PM) increases the chances of successful project delivery. But how do you find the ‘right’ PM? And what attributes should the  ‘right’ PM have?

I came across a study from the CIO Executive Board that identified what differentiates good from average PMs. Here are some of the Board’s findings:

Skills and Experience

The first selection criteria many organisations use for candidates for PM positions is project management certification. The Board’s study found that mere certification does not predict PM effectiveness.  The results also revealed that PMs with a strong technology background do not necessarily make good PMs.  This is because, PMs with diverse experience across both technology and business areas are typically more effective. Similarly, the study found that PMs that have ability in a broad range of technology or other domains were more effective than specialist PMs with ability in only one field. The implications from these results are that organisations should look to hire PMs that have diverse sets of experience in business and technology, and not rely too heavily on certifications alone.

Knowledge of the Business

Effective PMs understand not only ‘how’ but also ‘why’. They know the goals of their projects and know how these goals fit within the overall goals of the organisation. Effective PMs understand the organisational context within which the project operates. We all have seen too many PMs, who are so focused on their own project goals and success that they ignore everything else. In these cases, even if the project meets its goals, the project fails to deliver the benefits expected.

Understanding the organisation’s goals and strategies enables PMs to broker consensus from the conflicting agendas of the various stakeholders. If PMs lack this organisational knowledge, providing them with a mentor, who has the right organisational knowledge can help increase PM effectiveness.

Managing Stakeholders

High performing PMs become ‘business partners’ and not just ‘order-takers’. Order-takers typically focus on delivering what is specified even if it is incorrect or even if the circumstances change. On the other hand, ‘business partners’ improve their own credibility and gain the trust of the project sponsor, due to their understanding of a variety of project scenarios. As a result, ‘business partners’ are able to tailor their communications and frame their problems to overcome difficulties or  find the correct way forward.

Effective PMs develop relationships across the organisation so that they understand organisational dynamics, conflicting agendas, and the different personalities of key stakeholders within the organisation. This enables these PMs to consistently avoid barriers and successfully steer through complex issues.

Smart PMs tailor their communications to suit the needs of the key project stakeholders. Technology projects have both technical and business stakeholders with quite different needs and knowledge. Good PMs can convey the project’s progress and challenges with the right level of jargon and detail to different audiences, while at the same time maintaining their engagement with the project. Technical PMs typically use language that is foreign to business people. When key decisions are not understood or endorsed by key stakeholders, this can lead to costly consequences.

Team Leadership Ability

The importance of team leadership skills is often underestimated when businesses select PMs. Effective PMs understand what the team needs and tailor their communications with the team to drive the team’s performance. These PMs correctly assess and leverage team members’ skills, and are able to gain the trust of their team members.

Poor PMs, or ‘bullies’, run the team into the ground while the project is delivered. Although PMs with a poor track record of team leadership may make some short-term visible gains, these PMs often constrain the long-term success of the project. Team morale is a good indicator of a PM’s effectiveness. Good PMs not only deliver the project outcomes, but build a team’s capabilities throughout the project.

Ownership and Commitment

According to the study, two of the top three drivers of PM effectiveness are “passion to succeed”, and an “ability to meet internal deadlines”. When selecting PMs, leaders should seek potential candidates, who show these attributes.

Good PMs understand and help define the project success criteria. These PMs then become internal project champions by demonstrating passion in delivering the project and holding themselves accountable for the project’s success. Good PMs don’t find excuses for non delivery, rather, they strive to deliver the best outcomes.

Effective PMs follow the standard project processes, but look for ways to improve these process to remove bottleneck, time-consuming step, and other inefficiencies. CIOs should support and allow effective PMs to suggest process improvements where right.

Managing Project Risks

Effective PMs are skilled in anticipating the risks that will come up throughout the project life-cycle. These PMs not only identify risks, but are also effective in developing strategies to mitigate these risks. Effective PMs also communicate these risks to other stakeholders, to gain support for the mitigation of these risks.

The study found that there was a large difference in the ability to anticipate and manage risks between the top and bottom performers. So it would be advisable to use this as a filter in selecting PMs for critical projects.

Grace under Fire

Projects are stressful; a smooth running project is a rarity. Good PMs can maintain their cool and stay level-headed in times of crisis. They maintain composure and guide their teams through the myriad of crises and challenges that projects encounter.

Problems Solving and Quick Learning

The best PMs are experts at solving the problems that a project encounters. These PMs deal with insufficient or ambiguous information and are quick learners who rapidly draw lessons from unfamiliar situations and concepts. The best PMS are able to modify their own behaviour based on these lessons learnt.

Driven to Success

Good PMs are ambitious and success oriented. Organisations need to recognise this and create development pathways for PMs to progress to more senior roles. If organisations fail to look after good PMs, they will find challenges and opportunities elsewhere.

Summary

Project success depends on having the right project managers in place. I hope this article has given you useful guidance on the attributes of successful PMs that you can use in the PM selection and development process.

What other attributes you have found that characterise good PMs? Please let me know.

10 Barriers to Transformation

Over 60% of Transformations Fail

Large technology projects are often described as transformation projects. These projects significantly change the way organisations conduct their business and how work gets done. Unfortunately, the reality is that the success rate of transformations is less than 40%. Why do so many transformations fail? There are many common barriers to success. Many organisations have learnt to overcome these barriers and improve their success rates. In this article we discuss the top ten barriers to transformation and strategies organisations have used to overcome them.

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