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Turning Failure Inside Out

Turning Failure Inside Out

The risks of technology implementation and the imperfect nature of IT development practices make project abandonment inevitable - CIOs must learn how to handle the crisis

3. Form a contingency plan jointly with the sponsor: If a fallback/contingency plan does not exist, work closely with the senior business executives and the system owners to formulate an action strategy to address the original need for the project. Reassess the business case of the project. If a solution is still needed, identify alternative ways to satisfy the business need. Although time pressures may be high and budgets low, treat this as a brand-new project and consider several options (for example, previously rejected package solutions, delivering a downscaled project) before making any decisions.

4. Modify the current development process to reflect lessons learned: Based on the post-mortem audit, determine what changes need to be made to the existing development process, practices, methodologies and tools. Use TQM and benchmark your technical standards and methods against industry leaders. The goal is to eliminate deficiencies by adopting better, more sophisticated methods (such as automated project management tools) to plan, monitor and control project activities. This decreases the risk of future failures and demonstrates the commitment of IT.

5. Reflect on your own role and responsibilities: You need to understand your role in the project's set of complex relationships and activities. You can exert the greatest control over your own actions (as opposed to the actions of others). Understand your strengths and identify ways to address your weaknesses and gird yourself for the next project (there will always be another one).

6. Ensure continuity of service: It is critical not to let the failure overwhelm the IT department. IT professionals must maintain control and not let the department "fall apart". The IT staff must show that they are still capable of and committed to delivering service to users and management.

7. Provide staff counselling and appropriate new assignments: Project team members have invested a lot of time and energy into the failed project. As a result, many of them will feel guilty, frustrated or vulnerable. It is important to assist these employees by providing a means for them to express their feelings and providing career counselling, if needed. Also, you must reassure deserving members that they are valued, and promptly provide meaningful reintegration assignments for them to facilitate a "soft landing" in the mainstream organization.

8. Learn from mistakes: The project manager must be forthright and honest. If appropriate, the manager must take responsibility for any mistakes. Stonewalling and smoke screening will not help his or her situation or the organization. This may be difficult, but over the long term the manager will be better off.

9. Review related project decisions and long-range IT plans: Failure of a project can impact other project plans and corporate IT strategy significantly. Examine if other projects rest on the success of this cancelled one. Review and re-evaluate project resource allocation decisions and long-range IT plans that may be affected by this dramatic change.

10. Determine responsibility of vendors: If outside vendors or consultants were involved, determine the extent of their responsibility for the project cancellation. Negotiate with them to receive some form of damage payment if they are responsible. Consider legal action if a serious breach of contract occurred.

Any organization facing project failure must decide how to respond distinctively to the circumstances by considering its resources, limitations and risks. While response efforts must always be focused, well-targeted and swiftly executed, resilient managers will need to adapt such recommendations to their specific situations. If they do so well, the authors say they will be far better primed in formulating their response strategies, and so have a much better chance of turning failure on its head.

. . . If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the CIO's job and everything that's in it,

And - which is more - you'll likely keep that job, my son!

- With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, 1865-1936 (from his poem, "If . . . ")

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