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How the Big One Got Away: A Study in Project Failure

Sometimes you have to do things over and over before you get it right. Let’s say you love to fish. You go out when you can, with your gear on, and you wait. You cast eight times. Nothing bites the first five times. The sixth time your line gets stuck on an underwater rock. The seventh time you hook a tree behind you. After all this frustration, on the eighth cast, you catch the fish you’ve been waiting for all day. That is how many technology projects work. Only one in eight can be considered truly successful according to an article by Dr. John McManus and Dr. Trevor Wood-Harper. In their article, they looked at 214 information systems projects and tried to decipher what really makes a project fail: Our earlier research elaborated on the symptoms of information systems project failure in three specific areas: frequent requests by users to change the system; insufficient communication between the different members of the team working on the project and the end users (stakeholders); and no clear requirements definitions. Whilst communication between team and end users was still perceived as an issue with some projects; the top three issues from the study are: business process alignment; requirements management; and overspends. Both doctors detail dozens of what they refer to as “key reasons” why projects fail. Some of these reasons include poor requirement management, higher cost of capital, and poor project board composition among many, many others. Overall, it seemed clear to the authors that projects, either purposefully or subconsciously, tend to plan for failure rather than strive for success. This leads some people to give up hope on projects before they are finished. If we return to our fishing example, it would be like getting frustrated after the first 7 casts and just driving to the market for pre-packaged fish. In both cases, with increased information and awareness that success is indeed attainable, there can indeed be victory instead of failure.

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