Avoid a reputation hit: act now to save your failing IT project

Yogi Schulz: A guide to salvaging a failing IT projectIT management regularly encounters projects with problematic prospects that are not progressing as expected. It’s not a pretty sight.

Your nagging feeling tells you that something is just not right. You definitely don’t want the failure of a project to damage your reputation, your organization’s reputation or its carefully cultivated brand. Nor do you want others in the organization to view your project as a boondoggle or a career-killing project.

Here is a list of questions to help you save projects from the top 11 reasons for failure. Acting on the answers will help you recover a project from crashing and burning.

Insufficient planning

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The project is failing because the planning process was shortened due to time pressure. Ask these questions to adequately address the planning process:

  • Is our project charter sufficiently complete to form the basis for planning the project?
  • Is our project management plan sufficiently detailed to form the basis for a rational implementation of the project?
  • Is there a reasonably complete risk register?

Inadequate leadership

The project is failing because of inadequate leadership. Ask these questions to deal adequately with leadership:

  • Is our project sponsor engaged?
  • Does our project manager have enough experience, given the characteristics of the project?
  • Have either of the individuals in these roles ended up in their roles more by chance rather than by conscious selection?

Unclear goals and objectives

The project is failing due to unclear goals and objectives. Ask these questions to adequately address goals and objectives:

  • How measurable are our goals and objectives?
  • Given constraints of skills, experience and budget, how realistic are our goals and objectives?
  • Do our goals and objectives focus on business value, not technical details?

Use the SMART framework with your team to clarify goals and objectives.

Lack of resource planning

The project is failing because the planning process did not pay enough attention to resource management. Ask these questions to adequately address resource management:

  • Which team members with what technical and non-technical skills and experiences are required? Do we have them?
  • What knowledge resources do we lack? Can we hire experts or provide training to build the skills required for my team?
  • About how long will each team member be needed? Is any of them now working on other projects? Could they be recalled before this project is completed?
  • Are there cultural differences within the team that can create misunderstandings, tensions or even conflicts?
  • What facilities are needed? Do we have the office space, desks, computers, and meeting rooms that are necessary for the team to work effectively?
  • Which suppliers will we rely on? What are their skills, availabilities and limitations?

Warning signs ignored

The project is subtly failing because the leadership and team ignore warning signs of project difficulties. Ask these questions to respond appropriately to project warning signs:

  • Is the project sponsor repeatedly absent?
  • Is the project behind schedule?
  • Is the project trending over budget?
  • Have multiple project deliverables revealed quality deficiencies?
  • Are team members leaving the project?
  • Has the project manager been replaced?
  • Have members of the project steering committee disappeared or resigned?

Communication gaps

The project is failing due to a lack of internal communication about the project. Ask these questions to close communication gaps:

  • Does the organization have a conceptual understanding of the project, its goal and its benefits?
  • Does the project team regularly communicate status and successes through various channels?

Scope creep

The project is failing due to well-intentioned acceptance of additional scope, to satisfy key stakeholders, which ultimately overwhelms the team. Ask these questions to adequately address scope creep:

  • Has the team accepted additional functions or work that can be deferred?
  • Has the project steering committee urged the project manager to accept additional functions or work that can be deferred?
  • Has the project implemented and defended a scope management process?

Unclear organization

The project is failing because of an unclear project organization without accountability. Ask these questions to adequately address the project organization:

  • Who is the project sponsor? No one or more than one is usually a problem.
  • Who is the project manager? A self-managed team without a project manager is always a problem.
  • Who are the members of the project team?
  • Who are the members of the project steering committee?
  • Are there more part-time team members than full-time ones?
  • Are there more consultants on the team than employees?

Unrealistic expectations

The project is failing because of unrealistic expectations that exceed the capability of the team and the organization. Ask these questions to adequately understand the unrealistic expectations:

  • Can the goals and objectives be achieved sensibly with the planned team and budget?
  • How realistic is the project schedule?
  • Does the list of risks on the risk register suggest unrealistic expectations?

Lack of operational metrics

The project is failing due to a lack of operational metrics that prevent the organization from knowing the accurate status of the project and its progress. Ask these questions to adequately address operational metrics:

  • Have a few easy-to-measure operational metrics been defined?
  • Is the data for the operational metrics being routinely collected?
  • Are the operational metrics being reported regularly?

Lack of project visibility

The project is failing due to the lack of project visibility in the minds of the team, stakeholders and the broader organization. Ask these questions to adequately address project visibility:

  • How well do the team members know the status of other parts of the project?
  • How well are stakeholders aware of the goal and general status of the project?
  • Does the project document its decisions and work? Are the associated artifacts easily accessible?

Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of information technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, the need to leverage technology opportunities, and mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy and project management.

For interview requests, click here.


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