There's No Such Thing as an IT Project
As anyone who has ever read the Standish Group’s “Chaos” report knows, so-called IT projects have a fairly poor success rate. Nick Malik recently built upon this idea in his article “Everything you’ve read about IT Project Failure is wrong.”
Nick argues that, while traditional thinking focuses on looking within the project environment for the root-cause of failure, the most serious root-causes—such as a lack of accountability for success, slow decision making, etc.—are completely outside the project’s control.
I agree with the points raised in the article, and I think it’s possible to extend this analogy even further. I’d argue that there is no such thing as an IT project—there are only business projects that implement, impact, change, or interface with IT. This sounds like a subtle distinction, but it’s deceptively important.
As soon as an organization frames a project as being specifically IT, the project focus tends to shift to the technology. This is rather like the metaphorical “tail wagging the dog” and can lead to a focus on gathering detailed functional and solution requirements, rather than taking time to understand the true business need. Always ask, “What business and/or customer value is this adding?” or “What business risk is this mitigating?”
When organizations focus on the true business need, their projects are more likely to succeed. They’ll benefit from better business buy-in, and the project team will be much more confident of solving the original business problem. Plus, the project is able to acknowledge and liaise with a much wider and more engaged stakeholder community.
This provides the opportunity to understand project risks from different perspectives, which in turn helps to avoid those all-too-common potential project pitfalls. Stakeholder identification, analysis, and management become absolutely key, helping to appease and mitigate some of the external factors and risks raised in Nick Malik’s article.
Some would argue that technical projects like system upgrades are cozy IT-only projects that don’t require business sponsorship or engagement. However, upgrades might well impact business users (certainly downtime will), so it’s important that they are engaged, represented, and bought-in to the need for the solution.
In any event, it’s extremely important that the business takes appropriate ownership of its IT estate and is provided with relevant information so that it can choose how to invest wisely.
So what does this mean for projects? The key point is to think broad and wide. If a project looks like a “pure IT project,” it might mean the opportunity exists to find additional business stakeholders who are currently off the radar.