Reading tip: Only 39 percent of all IT projects reach their goals

Every now and then, surveys identifying surprisingly high rates of project failure receive wide media coverage. The rate of failed IT projects that the Standish Group determines in their regularly updated CHAOS Manifesto is a matter of public debate on a regular basis. According to the 2012 report, 61 percent of all projects either failed completely or exceeded their budget, missed important deadlines or lacked the expected quality.

The outlook that the Forrester survey gives is not that gloomy, but it is quite tough on the ability of IT departments to satisfy business users. Only 46 percent of the participants were content with the way the IT department reacted to technology needs in their company.

The survey names reasons for failure that are quite understandable: 56 percent of the interviewees said that ever-changing requirements are a reason for the ill success of their projects. 50 percent agreed that IT teams tried to do too much at once. And 34 percent blamed a lack of clear executive direction.

One respondent summarized the miscommunication between IT and other departments: “The business folks don’t think in terms of what capabilities are nice to have and what are must-haves, and they often give a list of requirements that’s too high-level. This doesn’t help IT get an accurate sense of how technology can help.”

Only 31 percent of the respondents said that their IT department maintained a clearly defined set of business-centric services that the business can easily understand.

But what can one do to end this disappointing situation? Forrester refers to a so-called Integrated Thinking Solution – meaning that development teams needed to take different perspectives to satisfy business users and to see the big picture. That sounds quite promising, but the thought probably isn’t news to most of the IT project teams.

Often, fundamental deficiencies regarding project management are the reason for project failure in companies. Using the IT department as the only scapegoat falls short of the mark. Ideally, project teams work on IT projects across departments and involve as many people concerned as possible. Project managers have a key role in this scenario, because it is their responsibility to make sure that lists of requirements don’t get out of hand. Sometimes it helps to fall back upon standard software if in-house development projects are leading nowhere.