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Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
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PatMorrell
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PatMorrell,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 2:55:42 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Overall, I agree with Coverlet Meshing's conclusions that misguided ROI expectations/calculations, self-serving accountability issues, and un-Agile projects are precursors to tech project failure. I also agree that monolith off-the-shelf tech companies have the potential to inhibit project success (and, long-term, stifle technology decision-making); on addendum I would suggest, however, is that not all outside partners are proverbial loaded guns. Agile, custom business technology shops can usher larger organizations through the murky innovation waters and deliver progressive software applications (sans licensing fees, etc.) that mirror existing workflows/culture, and solves business problems. Quick aside: this article is guided by the presupposition that all enterprise tech projects originate in, and are led by, IT. Increasingly, I've seen this trend change; more and more, "intrapreneurs" in marketing, ops, and other functions are taking the reins on new tech projects.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2013 | 1:35:11 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Pat - Great point on intrapeneurs. Very interesting trend and ultimately, an indictment that IT lacks the credibility with their stakeholders when it comes to delivering adjacent and edge technologies quickly. Look for references in future columns to "elves."
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
4/10/2013 | 3:13:32 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
I was on a panel recently discussing internal social networking projects, and the topic turned to ROI. I argued a lot of these have to be a leap of faith -- that you just aren't going to get a hard ROI on something as fuzzy as getting people to share ideas and collaborate better. But there was a sense that ROI still must be calculated at most companies.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2013 | 4:19:49 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
The larger the company the more likely that ROI will be demanded. Scale is the real problem. A company is itself a social network and once it grows past a certain size, it can't trust that each node will act responsibly. Demanding ROI is the trust safety net. And few question whether there are huge holes in it.

It's funny how easily we can humanize bureaucracy or process heaviness by just framing it as a trust-building exercise.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
4/8/2013 | 3:28:31 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
I believe I have seen all five of these at some point in my career and agree they are top contributors to project failure. The cost consciousness and reductions in IT over the past few years have left some internal IT departments with overtasked skeleton crews and greater dependence on outsourcing. Number five however does not have to be the proverbial loaded gun. Two actions I think can mitigate the effects indicated in the article and reduce this risk. First, evaluate your outsourcing staff members as if you were hiring them (get their resumes if necessary). Depending on the outsourcer they can provide microspecialists which do nothing other than installing and configuring the HW/SW for your project. This experience can greatly reduce delays from testing/development to operations. Second, identify one FTE to shadow the contractor. Your internal staff can then perform the "lights on" maintenance and operation of the system once the keys are past. Naturally it all depends on the specific project, but these two actions have helped.
spintreebob
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spintreebob,
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4/8/2013 | 5:09:10 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Agreed on the five listed. Expanding on them: Sales people are under pressure to replace the existing with the new, regardless of whether the existing has a problem or not and regardless of whether the new is actually better, or just new. So sales people sell the sizzle and not the features or benefits...and certainly not the solutions their bullets claim. They tell the buyers "Buy this new technology and all your problems will be solved." The buyer is looking for a scapegoat. It's politically safer to blame the existing technology than blame the application and database designs and the coding and testing of the people you still have to work with. Whether a code generator or a performance monitor or project management tool, the manager who bought the sales pitch will ask the workers "Well did the tool fix the problem?" as if the code generator could fix the problem of a poorly designed application, or the performance monitor actually fixed the performance problem.
naperlou
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naperlou,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 9:24:21 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
What is going on here????? These numbers have not moved for years and years!!!! Wasn't CASE suppossed to help? Waht about SOA/BPM?? What about agile? Can it just be a matter of organizational issues? I don't think so. Frankly the reason I am reacting so excitedly is that I have worked for the companies that sell a lot of those technologies. If they are really utilized as intended they would change the picture significantly (well, except agile). What I see as a real problem in the corporate software development world is a combination of the professional and personel issues mentioned with a lack of proper education or professional certification.

We often have people with computer science degrees or business degrees doing this work. What we really need is more people with software engineering degrees and certifications. I personally have a BS in Computer Science, but I have a lot of experience with software engineering, having gotten involved before software engineering degrees were offered. I am also a fan of certifications like the IEEE CSDP. I am also a member of the IEEE.

I also get upset about this issue because I worked at a few very advanced software development shops. We did not have these problems. We tracked software development very tightly and were able to estimate new projects very accurately. We were also able to manage them to completion through some techniques that I see filtering into approaches such as the PMP process just now. I was using them over 20 years ago.
Andrew Hornback
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Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2013 | 3:09:08 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
I have to very whole-heartedly agree with point 3. It's not necessarily about multi-year projects, but about finding the proper solution when a need is identified.

For example, one organization that I'm quite well acquainted with has multiple "Enterprise Knowledge Management Platforms". Okay, so what's the problem with that? Cohesiveness, or lack thereof. Let's start from the beginning - when a new user gets on-boarded, they're bombarded with a list of URLs and sets of credentials for all of these platforms. As they progress, they start using the platforms and keep asking questions about where to find X, Y and Z. Meanwhile, X, Y and Z are on different platforms, but the user has to gather all of the information together, synthesize and report - thereby creating more content and having to choose which system to use to store it, since it has to be somewhere that everyone can get to. Now, wasn't the whole idea behind using an Enterprise Knowledge Management Platform to have a SINGLE place in the enterprise where all users can find and store all of the information that they work with? Instead, you have users who have to search through multiple, disparate knowledge sources - even ones that are considered depricated, legacy, "soon to be retired", etc. Meanwhile, all of them keep getting used and worker productivity drops like a stone.

What it boils down to, in this case, why worry about choosing a system to implement if you know that you're not going to be directly responsible for that choice by the time the organization realizes it wasn't the right one? If you're not going to be held accountable for a decision in three years, should you really be empowered to make that decision?

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
MedicalQuack
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MedicalQuack,
User Rank: Moderator
4/10/2013 | 5:37:17 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Nice article and just goes to show you can do anything with software:) I borrowed that from the guy who wrote the sub prime software that all the banks used and modeled for their trillions in profit. If you have never seen the documentary Quants, the Alchemists of Wall Street, watch it. Mike Osinski is the one why made the comment and he's in the movie and makes a good point on how some of what we see is vaporware and twisted code.

Right now we have a data mining epidemic going on to where they don't know when to stop and are in search of some non linear model and algorithms that will "save the day"...Models that lie in other words...I talk about it in healthcare and I call it Algo Duping.

http://ducknetweb.blogspot.hk/...

Here's a bunch of videos and the one above included on how Algo Duping works..I'm the curator and these are folks smarter than me. We are under the Attack of the Killer Algorithms...

http://www.ducknet.net/attack-...

Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
4/10/2013 | 4:32:15 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Oddly enough, I mention quants in the second part of this piece. I'll be interested in your feedback when IW publishes it.
MedicalQuack
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MedicalQuack,
User Rank: Moderator
4/13/2013 | 4:37:31 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Ok a little satire here, why do banks always win with their math and formulas, it's this PLOS one study...the fear of math generates real physical pain with consumers...It is an advantage built in, preset for Wall Street:)

http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com...

Now to go a little further and this is important to science as well with "P" values with models and math, we now have a publication that advises how to recognize if someone has "fiddled" with the P Values...we have that financial models..just one more non linear game if you will

http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com...

Again I used to be a developer and integrated some different softwares with medical records and medical billing and even though I am not a quant and being the next level down, a smart programmer can still see and determine were dirty code has been written for profit in just how it executes without having source code.

The Quants documentary is great as it is the only video that I have seen out there that actually helps educate the layman on what quants do and how it works. I have had it on my blog for over a year and keep recycling it as it had about 3000 views when I started and now over 500,000 have watched it. It's the only documentary to where you see a quant at the blackboard and this gives the layman some visual of how this occurs. Wilmott and Derman are great with their explanations. Want to fight crime and fraud, it's all in the models.
dhollyday
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dhollyday,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/10/2013 | 8:55:42 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Hi:

I liked your recent article entitled "Why Tech Projects Fail" in Information Week.

I agree with most of your poiunts and have seen many first-hand having worked for large, mid-zized and small organizations in IT for the past 20+ years. I have also worked for some of the Outsourcers you single out and agree that its hard to see their value in many cases.

Regarding your point #4 - Detailed Plans Are the Enemy, I would have liked this point "fleshed out" a little more. What is your opinion regarding Project Management Methodologies like the PMI which largly focus on very large, detailed and projects?

It would be interesting to get your thoughts on this point.

Thanks

Richard Hollyday
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
4/11/2013 | 12:25:17 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Richard-

First, my disclaimer-- which should be published with every column that I write and email that I send: "You're probably smarter than me on most issues and you're definitely more knowledgeable than me on any topic where *you* pose a question. That's not humility speaking. That's an understanding of the law of averages and how it relates to people who 1) read and 2) are engaged enough by that reading to ask questions of the author."

That said....

1) I've found that we chase methodologies-- whether for program management or development-- for all the wrong reasons. It's not waterfall or agile, for instance, that delivers speed to market engineering or reduces inefficiencies or provides better quality. It's culture. Everyone's excited about Agile right now but I know of waterfall shops with soul-- ones that have the right culture and frankly will blow away the more mechanistic, soulless agile shops on any measure. So Agile (or insert any methodology here) isn't a cure-all, its a fad. Culture counts.

2) If you're in a large enough company, there's no *one* methodology that can address the entire array of project planning maturity levels in that org. I always think of that reality show with the family that has 19 kids: the oldest one is 20 years old and the youngest 3 months. That's your modern enterprise. And no monolithic program mgmt methodology or system or tool will offer the kind of differentiated experience that's right for all of those maturity level. As with architecture, we need multiple patterns when approaching project management. And each pattern should take into consideration the maturity of the PM competency of its intended audience.

Given my disclaimer, I'd love to hear what you think is the answer to your question. :)

CM
Steve Christensen
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Steve Christensen,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/11/2013 | 2:09:57 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Coverlet Meshing,

Every point you've made is spot on. Can you imagine starting your car, driving to work and only getting there 25-63% of the time? Again, that 2% makes the numbers relevant. My perspective on enterprise technology is that the beasts of the industry: SAP, Oracle, etc. inadvertently cause the problems you've defined.

These systems are complex, massive, expensive, disruptive and tend to totally ignore those parts of the business that make your company unique. The vendors then come in and talk about best of breed and best practices: none of which actually exist. Those two phrases are 100% marketing blather intended to shut you up about your needs because, even though their system doesn't fit your business, your business is obviously out of step with the 'leaders' of the world.

No company starts out to be like its competitors. Every company is trying to bash in the head of their competitors and they don't do it by sinking 5.5% of revenue to acquire an ERP and then 4 - 6% of revenue every year thereafter just to feed and care for the beast. 70% of the workforce of a company derive very little, if any, benefit from the ERP. Instead all the benefits and political capital accrue to the HIPPO that won't be around long enough to see all the carnage.

To avoid technology failure the first step is to take the ERP off the altar and put it into the foundation of the business where it belongs. Freezing its ability, restricting modifications, ignoring upgrades and avoiding like the plague 'integration' is the only way to mitigate risk, budget and resource constraints. To your point about HIPPO's and their ability to move on...you can't move on until the project you sponsored is done.

Now that you've sealed off the oozing source of problems (ERP), use new enterprise technology that does not interfere or require any change to the underlying systems. This technology then must be self contained with sufficient UI, full Logic, infinite Data and fall off a log simple processes that make user adoption instantaneous. My company has been delivering these solutions for 5 years. Projects take less than 30 days. ROI is immediate and the payback is in month 1 or 2 at the latest. User adoption is voracious, training is virtually eliminated and accountability is enforced.
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
4/11/2013 | 4:54:55 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Steve-

You had me at "oozing."

I'm not sure whether its "the beasts of the industry" that cause the problems or whether it's their size (and ours) that causes them (us) to unwittingly add to the problem. It's never just about someone doing something to IT. There's some delicious complicity there.

CM
UltraShip Tms
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UltraShip Tms,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/29/2013 | 3:41:15 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
From our perspective, the challenges you speak of could all be mitigated if organizations spent a little more time doing due diligence in the selection of a provider/partner of enterprise software. WE categorically preempt these stumbling blocks when selling and then implementing our Transportation Management System (TMS) solution for Fortune 500 companies. Want to know how? We blogged a rebuttal to these five points at our Supply Chain Collaborator blog here: http://bit.ly/10OxtkV Would love your feedback. Thanks Coverlet!
RunningQuery
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RunningQuery,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/2/2013 | 12:52:21 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
If something can't be done manually why would anyone surmise that automating it will help? Technology can do wonderful things, but it can't magically fix a business. However, it is exciting to spend a bunch of money trying ... you are right Coverlet it is a cultural issue.
Mark Simchock
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Mark Simchock,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/10/2013 | 11:23:03 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Interesting. The majority of these have little if anything to do with technology. Seems to me that IT is again getting blamed for things that are not exclusive to IT, nor are they within the control of IT. Perhaps a better title would have been "5 Unspoken Ways Leadership, Management & Culture Fail IT Projects"?
khizar_07
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khizar_07,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/12/2013 | 10:19:14 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
The reason the projects fail is the the IT outsources overstate their technical know how and the performance of the hardware they are trying to sell. In the end the project does not scale well to beyond a few hundred thousand users and furthermore functionality that was promised is missing because incompetent programmers do not know how to think outside the box.
The whole industry is in disarray with many recent projects only being awarded on a pay for performance basis. If it works they get paid if not then its a loss for the IT outsourcing companies.
If you want a record store that can store and retrieve a few details and does not need to scale past a few hundred thousand users then the IT outsourcers are capable of delivering that.
If you need to have a system capable of supporting millions of users whilst also doing complex logic/calculations and routing messages to different users and computer systems then you have to look elsewhere.
You know the IT Outsoucers are incompetent when they throw around buzzwords such as Big Data! If they knew anything about IT they would understand that technology for search engines is inappropriate for structured databases. Altering a customer record to store an additional filed becomes extremely difficult.
mracz303
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mracz303,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/14/2013 | 7:57:33 PM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Most projects fail due to the lack of the fundamentals. I am old school, I like to understand if the data that i am working with and making my decisions on is valid and accurate. In any busniess case or project start up, question the data presented to you and ask, when was the data updated, by who, what procedures did they use to validate the accuracy of the data and how.
When is the last time you heard inventory, validation, accuracy or the integrety of the data being questioned? I assume not very often. The a high failure rate is due mostly to all of the above point of pain plus poor judgement in regards to the dat used to support the project.
I do understand application projects are of a different bread then IT hardware, but surely if you are basing your project milestones on bad data, you will fail more often then not, on any project.
Uladzislau Shauchenka
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Uladzislau Shauchenka,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 12:29:00 AM
re: Why Tech Projects Fail: 5 Unspoken Reasons
Can I recommend a resource?
Why Projects Fail is a 113 pages book featuring project management case studies, analyze of failed projects, suggestions and recommendations.


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