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5 Risks in IT System Replacement Projects (and How to Mitigate Them)

5 risksIT system replacements are notorious for long delays, missed agreements, and immense overhead costs. Add in the general confusion for both customer and IT, and you've got a recipe for headaches, long days, and miscommunication throughout. So what are the big risks to look out for and deal with? Michael Komperud lists 5: 


  • Ineffective user involvement
  • Ineffective executive support
  • Requirements Inflation
  • Schedule flaws
  • Staff turnover

The first two risks both deal with ineffectiveness: ineffective user involvement and ineffective executive support. The first stems from being too insular while developing the solution — something that not only carries the risk of misunderstanding what the user actually wants, but keeping them out of the development cycle (resulting in later requests for modifications and reworks). The next is perhaps even more of a death knell for projects: lack of executive support. Executive management needs to be on board from beginning to end in order for projects to be successful and supported. Projects that find themselves on the other side of the spectrum can often be shut down despite being on time and in budget. Also in the list is scope creep, the “tendency to add or change the features required at the project's onset”. While this does go hand-in-hand with the lack of user involvement mentioned above, it does pose a unique threat to the timeframe and cost of a project. The solution is to remove ambiguity early on in the project, eliminating the chance of certain “added” features from being slipped in without being recognized as scope creep. One of the final risks included in this article is staff turnover, which poses a rather unique but often occurring danger in a project based organization:

When important personnel retire or resign, the project often suffers a “brain drain”. This is especially worrisome in cases when an obsolete legacy system is being replaced and no one understands the technology or business processes related to that system better than the employee who just walked out the door. This is hard to avoid, but can be mitigated by rotating project resources to reduce dependency. Try to cultivate processes instead of heroes. Embrace communication and reach out to key staff members to reduce the stress and uncertainty they feel in relation to forthcoming changes. 

All five of the risks covered point to, in a general sense, a lack of sustained communication and understanding. Project leadership can identify and mitigate the majority of these problems through monitoring the health of communication between users, executive management, the team, and the initial agreements made in regards to the project.

About Anne Grybowski

Anne is a former staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success, with a degree in Media Studies from Penn State University.

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