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Avoiding Project Failure - What Can Organisations Do

14 July 2014  |  633 views  |  0

It seems as if a technology programme failure hits the headlines every other week. Recently we have seen the BBC lambasted for its failed digital media initiative (DMI), which was a programme that would produce new editing tools, an online archive of the BBC’s programmes and a new database. The programme was approved in 2006 and Siemens was contracted to begin work in 2008 with the aim of completing it within a year. The project failed, and was finally cancelled when it became clear that it would not deliver the benefits described in the Business Case. The National Audit Office (NAO) brandied it a complete failure, losing the licence payer a colossal £100 million.


It’s not just the BBC. The banking industry, retail and public sector have all fallen victim to reputation-damaging technology failures. Even though the reasons behind these failings are manifest and different parts of the organisation are to blame, the culpability often falls at the feet of the CIO and the IT team. In the case of the BBC, the chief technology officer was dropped like a hot brick – the Guardian likened it to the sacking of a failed football manager.


The solution to these failures is the Holy Grail but I believe there are certain steps and procedures the CIO and the tech team can put in place in order to improve the success rate of Change programmes. These include:


-          Business Case: we at Certeco recently conducted research looking into the strength and validity of business cases in technology investments. We found they are mostly drafted for budget sign off rather than as a framework for project progression. Organisations should be adhering closely to the business case, updating them as the scope and other factors change, include measurable deliverables and use them to charter success, rather than leave them gathering dust in a drawer once the Programme has been commissioned.

-          Senior executive buy-in: if a project is going to succeed, it is vital that it has board sponsorship with executives who are committed to making the project a success.

-          Scope and Requirements: being realistic about the programme scope and requirements is essential as is the need to be mindful that these can change.  All proposed changes need to be challenged as robustly as the original Business Case – What does the change do to the cost profile?  How does it affect the projected benefits?;  - In short, does the Business Case still stack up!

-          In my view it is essential that the whole delivery team is permanently aware of the objectives of the project, the overall strategy, and any changes to scope and projected business benefits.

-          Stakeholder communication: I am amazed by how many projects involve teams that run in silos, with the result being that the left hand has no idea what the right hand is doing. Regular communication, team meetings and transparent and frequent reporting will help ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

-          Risk Management: being constantly aware of risks, understanding how they could adversely affect the programme, how likely they are to occur, and how they can be mitigated is essential at the outset. 

-          Review: learning from failures should be a mantra for any organisation, but when it comes to IT and business change projects, few analyse their failings to see what could have been done better and what could be learned for future projects. Of those that do, it is often done as an exercise so it can be ticked off the governance pack check list.  Lessons learned reviews are of little value if their findings are not fed into the next programme or project.


There are no guarantees to project success, but I believe there are measures that can be put in place to ensure that projects have the best possible chance of succeeding. Firstly, you need to be as sure as you can be of the benefits of each proposed programme of change and the risks to each.  For example, you may have ten programme proposals on the table but only the resources to undertake five.  How can you decide which five to choose unless you have robust Business Cases for each with clear evidence of the business benefits?  Secondly, you are helping the rest of the business to approach the chosen changes strategically.  Ensuring the right steps have been put in place at the outset, and embedding a process to review the business case at regular intervals throughout the programme lifecycle will help. It will also improve the visibility and reputation of the CIO and the Programme leadership teams which is no bad thing. 


TagsInnovationTransaction banking

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