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Blog: Sleeping Executives Make IT Projects Fail

Blog: Sleeping Executives Make IT Projects Fail

Consider this. Big projects (a year or more) are unhealthy for CIOs. By the time they're done and the business execs see the result, these snoozing sponsors discover it wasn't what they wanted.

Example 1: A CIO of a large insurance concern is 3 years into a re-architecting of the firm's application portfolio - at which point, frustrated with the pace and progress, the CEO fires him.

Example 2: A mid-market company completes a lengthy project in which a substantial sum is spent subscribing to external data that is then incorporated into the application. Execs get a demo - and say that this isn't what they wanted.

Example 3: A small financial services company spends millions on outsourced project development over a three-year period. Business users refuse to use the system which they claim has bad data and doesn't deliver functionality they requested. The CIO and IT senior managers are fired.

What do these projects have in common? All the lead participants are asleep during the project. And they are naive about who owns the effort and how to sustain ownership long enough to get a desired benefit.

Whether you believe that two-thirds of projects fail, or you believe only one-third of them fail, a lot of money gets wasted. And there are many good ways to reduce project risk And there are also guidelines on how and when to kill failing projects. No need to belabor them.

But trumping all of these, in my view, is the go-to-sleep attitude of enterprise executives (maybe even including the CIO) as these projects proceed. By going to sleep about their sponsorship and energy investment, only to wake up after prolonged elapsed time, the project became IT's responsibility -- and perceived inadequacies clearly are IT's fault. Now the money is spent and the result is either so inadequate as to be a total write-off, or it is cancelled before any benefit can be realized, or frustration results in intense company in-fighting and even termination of jobs.

When a project that is presumed to deliver sweeping business change and improvement - otherwise why spend so much money on it? - it is not IT's project, nor the outsourcers' project, nor the responsibility of a single beleaguered and perhaps junior business project sponsor or analyst. It is an enterprise effort for which IT is a small and important player, not the owner. If you wanted a custom-designed house built, wouldn't you visit the site and monitor progress? Isn't it your house, not the architect's house? After all, who will live in it when it is done? You certainly wouldn't wait until the appliances are being installed to see if the kitchen was what you expected.

But when large IT investments falter, most likely that's exactly what enterprise execs have done. It's not their house, it's IT's house. And if the specifications were inadequate, the cost was over budget due to revisions, that's IT's fault.

And CIOs who let business executives off the responsibility and oversight hook, if they let them send underlings to meetings, if they provide a status and get no feedback, if the scope of deliverables is intergallactic, if ddevelopment is not iterative, that's exactly what they are aiding and abetting. Their own project failure and a waste of the enterprise's money. And that scenario, sadly, really is their own fault.

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