Why Do So Many it Projects Fail?

That's the $10 million question, isn't it?

The C-suite points at their PMO and project managers. They in turn point at individual project team members and right back up to the C-suite. Everyone points at their project management software. Who do we blame for the abysmal project success rate? (The Standish Group's 2009 Chaos Survey indicates that 66% of IT projects fail.)

I think there's more than enough blame to go around.

As we've talked about recently, the IT project failure rate is a reflection of a problem that encompasses the entire process. It all starts with project selection. If organizations don't have a formalized process for evaluating potential projects, it's easy for executives to make knee-jerk decisions based upon the wheel that squeaks the loudest or the personal preferences of a powerful stakeholder. Either way, that might not be the best way to make decisions that commit a company's resources and manpower—and certainly isn't a strategic approach to work management.

I read a report last week that suggests that CIOs blame their PMOs for the horrible project success rate. As I read the report I thought, what else is the CIO going to say? Let's look at this logically. Sure, an immature PMO could have something to do with poor IT project management, but what are the odds that nearly every PMO is incompetent? Pretty slim in my opinion. That being said, I think there is a problem with typical project management methodology. Managers spend way too much time collecting data and building reports. And those functions do nothing to help encourage project success. Project managers should be in the trenches, helping teams be more productive. If there is a failure in the PMO, it's in their inability to foster a hands-on project management approach.

Project status reporting should be an automated function. Regardless of your project management solution, if it requires managers to manually build reports to push up to the executive level, the software isn't doing its job—and is where traditional project management software fails.

Most project portfolio management (PPM) software addresses the business intelligence needs of executives and ignores project teams, which is where the rubber hits the road. The fact that most PPM software is difficult for the end user to use means that they won't. By ignoring the end user, most project management solutions guarantee that the data business leaders have to work with with be inaccurate and out of date. What's more, if they force project managers to manually collect project data and spend the lion's share of their time creating reports, managers are merely reporting on projects instead of managing them for success.

In my opinion, the key to successful project management is three-fold:

1. Make it easy for project teams to contribute to the process. Don't force them into a maze of complicated procedures to update status and get their work done.

2. Automate status reporting so project managers can manage projects, rather than merely reporting on them.

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