The fifth reason IT projects often fail (hint: it involves CEOs and money)

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I’ve spent quite a few years reading articles on why many IT projects fail.  By and large, all the reasons quoted in eminent journals – sometimes written by real experts, and often supported by real data – are perfectly plausible, and almost certainly correct in most cases.  I’m sure you’ve read them too, but in case you haven’t here is my distillation of the relevant literature:

Reasons for IT project failure:

  • Lack of executive sponsorship: “The CEO wasn’t interested”
  • Poorly-specified and constantly-changing requirements: “We didn’t know what we wanted”
  • Poor planning and project management: “We didn’t know how to do it”
  • IT-driven rather than business-driven: “When we got it, it didn’t do what we wanted”

Possibly like you, I had generally found nothing to argue about here.  Certainly, these factors are observable in pretty much all projects that go off the rails.

But in one of those rare moments of true insight, I caught a sudden glimpse of another reason.  And so far as I can recall, this reason has never been quoted in the material I have studied so far.  To my mind, this factor lies behind many of the commonly-cited reasons for IT project failure, including those listed above.  We could christen it, “The Revenue Factor”.

Now, rather than tell you outright what I mean by The Revenue Factor, let me allow you to guess for yourself.  All you have to do is to answer the following question:

“What sort of project would the CEO be really keen to sponsor, would have rock-solid, clearly-defined and unchanging requirements, be planned and managed expertly and be driven by fully-engaged business stakeholders?”

And in case you can’t figure it out, the type of project that satisfies all of these criteria is:

One that will deliver significant gains in revenue and/or profit within the CEO’s tenure.

The clear business requirement is to increase revenue/profit by focusing the entire project on the customer’s purchasing behaviour and increasing the revenue or profit that results from it. The CEO and business stakeholders will love it and want to be seen leading it. Planning and project management will be much easier because of the crystal-clear, easily-understood goal and the active support received from all quarters. All elements of the project – process design, system design, integration, etc. will be aligned with a clear project objective that everyone understands and buys into.

So here is my sure-fire recipe for IT project success: “Create IT projects that are driven by changes to the customer journey that that will deliver visible gains in revenue or profit within the CEO’s tenure”

Written by Mike Bradbury of T-exec Business Consulting

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1 Comment

  1. Good article Mike. The ability of the project to drive corporate KPIs – and with it the bonuses of staff and C levels) helps determine level of interest.

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