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Avoid black swan IT project failures

Jumar Technology

As pressure rises to offer new and existing products and services anytime, anywhere, organisations are often required to undergo enterprise-level digital transformations to cater for these needs.  These projects are often lengthy, complex and expensive to achieve as well as carrying significant risk to organisations.

Should budgeting or development timescales overrun, it could cause catastrophic consequences.  According to a survey by the Harvard Business review, cost overruns of 200% and schedule overruns of 70% take place in at least one-in-six IT projects. These “black swan” projects can be a large contributor to financial difficulties and even bankruptcy.

Such projects with a 50% or higher risk of failure, are costed at more than £800,000 making it unsurprising that the risks associated with digital transformation is the primary concern of Directors, CEOs and Senior Executives.

How can you avoid your IT project becoming a “black swan”?

Align with strategic goals

Prior to beginning a programme of work, it is important to ensure the alignment with the organisation’s strategic goals and to determine the relevant project priority order.  A proven approach for doing this is to apply a Balanced Scorecard (BSC) framework.  This holistic system for managing strategy, is dependent on a defined set of qualitative and quantitative measures.  It considers whether the project will deliver the desired ROI, align the with long-term business strategic objectives and whether the organisation is ready to embark on such an initiative.

The BSC framework also provides an effective way to compare two or more ordinarily incomparable projects to determine their priority, such as a staff information site and an E-Commerce platform.  The framework considers how to treat the prioritisation of ‘must-do’ projects e.g. mandatory regulatory changes or the replacement of “burning platforms” that do not necessarily always score highly against the strategic goals.

Obtain stakeholder buy-in

Poor stakeholder management can be a major cause of project failure.  According to a survey by Geneca, only 55% of people involved in a project felt that the business objectives were clear to them and a startling 80% said that the requirements process did not reflect the needs of the business.  For transformation and business change to be delivered effectively, and to maximise the end user adoption, consideration should be given to the type and number of Review Boards required.  Typically Programme, Project, User and Technology Steering Boards are required to ensure that stakeholders within the organisation are committed to the programme(s) and projects and that the solutions being proposed meet the business needs.

Creating structured review boards avoids these key issues and enables the business to identify project areas that may require change.  Change management processes can then be implemented to efficiently drive the change; further increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome.

To maximise the effectiveness of the governance boards, their objectives need to be clearly defined and agreed from the start.  This is particularly important in Agile deliveries, as with relevant Management Information (MI) and dashboards, the project sponsor, key stakeholders and Product owner(s) can make effective decisions on prioritisation and issue resolution.  Through the User Board, end users are included in any decision-making process.  This includes addressing any compromises that need to be made to hit the timeline and / or budget to ensure maximum buy-in.

Select appropriate levels of project governance

The level of project governance is also an important consideration.  Whilst government bodies, for example, are likely to require specific levels of governance to adhere to their frameworks, other business cultures may require a lighter touch to avoid hindering progress with unnecessary red tape.  Experienced project and programme management practitioners can look to streamline the governance to ensure that the appropriate boards and approval gates are in place to enable effective delivery.

With mature project and programme management governance in place, organisations will waste 28 times less money than those that don’t. In fact, according to the Project Management Institute (PMI), organisations with high project management maturity deliver 64% of their projects on time and 67% on budget, in comparison to those with low project and programme management maturity who delivered 36% and 43% respectively.

As we can see, mature project and programme governance, using frameworks such as BSC, change management and stakeholder buy-in, can prove invaluable to ensure the success of your transformation programme.

Jumar Technology is recognised by Gartner for its Project And Programme Management service and has delivered enterprise-level transformations for a host of public sector and financial service organisations. If you would like to know more about other processes and techniques to avoid IT project failure, contact us.

Rebecca Bennett
Jumar Technology