Project Management

Early Warning Signs of IT Project Failure: The Dominant Dozen

There are almost always warning signs in IT projects that are heading down the path of failure. Despite this, many are caught off guard when a project goes south. This article by Leon Kappelman, Robert McKeeman, and Lixuan Zhang provides a postmortem of a few failed IT projects where there were plenty of signs that the project was heading for a poor end. The risks are a mix of both people related and project related, but all of them could have provided an opportunity to correct the course of the project and get it back on track. One key early warning is a lack of top management support. As the paper explains, this early warning sign (EWS) can hamstring the success of a project instantly: IT projects get caught up in enterprise politics where there are fundamental disagreements about overall enterprise priorities. In these cases the resources and enterprise wide commitment required for success are lacking. Middle managers do not see the project as being important to the enterprise or to their performance evaluations and therefore redirect resources and attention to activities that top management does support. Another EWS is simply a lack of documentation. Whether in requirements, agreements, or simply a documented exchange of emails, documentation is a key indicator of how healthy a project is. If there is a severe lack of documentation in a project, sirens should be blaring for the project management team. This especially becomes apparent if there are no documented success criteria. Projects can linger on due to a single stakeholder consistently requesting updates or modifications if there is no document that defines what success in the project looks like.

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