My take on why IT projects still fail

Lightning TreeThe findings of PMI’s 8th annual Global Project Management Survey as published in The High cost of Low Performance are disturbing. They report declines in many of the project success factors that they track. Furthermore, the percentage of projects meeting their goals is lower than it has been over the past four years. According to the study, the reason for these findings is that leaders in organizations still don’t trust that projects deliver strategy.

It has been several years since PMI conducted the first formal research study which confirmed that project management brings value to organizations. Sadly, project management is still not embraced as strategic in real life. According to the High cost of Low Performance report, money continues to be wasted when projects aren’t managed well. Still, we continue to read reports in various media about projects that failed massively (examples here and here). Will we truly never learn?

I ask myself this question whenever I am involved in delivering a project. Despite knowing that projects are there to deliver results, we get stuck in day-to-day activity tracking. Meeting deadlines and staying within budget is too often favored over achieving project results. Decisions are made within project confines rather than considering the environment where they will be implemented. The operational organizational level where projects are executed is worlds apart from the executive level where strategic decisions are made. There is very little alignment between the two. How can a project succeed when the strategic goals that have been defined are measured only by whether it is on time and within budget? It is therefore not surprising that projects continue to have such high failure rates.

This trend will probably continue until organizations start recognizing the need to align strategic thinking to the operational project execution. Until then, project managers don’t have to sit on the sidelines and wait until the executives “get it”. We can contribute to more successful outcomes by trying to establish dialogue with project stakeholders in order to understand what the project is meant to deliver in a broader context, rather than just focusing on ticking off the boxes to report successful completion of deliverables. On the other hand, project stakeholders should start asking what those deliverables actually contain and how they benefit the organization, rather than demanding that projects are on time and within budget – most of them actually are, but still they fail because they deliver deliverables rather than results.

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