5 cures for IT project management woes

As any IT manager can attest, tech projects are difficult to get off the ground, and can often be even harder to complete. How can IT better meet those challenges?

Major IT projects are 20 times more likely to fail than other business initiatives, according to a recent study conducted by Oxford University. In fact, a whopping one out of every six IT projects ends before it’s completed, researchers said.

The researchers looked at 1,471 IT projects started in public and private sector organizations over the last decade. In addition to the high rate of failure, they found:

  • Major IT projects take 55% longer than planned, on average
  • They run an average of 27% over budget, and
  • IT projects hit by “rare and huge events” go over budget by an average of almost 200%.

IT initiatives are highly susceptible to those major setbacks, researchers said, because tech projects tend to be complex and touch many different areas of the company.

How can IT and its partners in the business get better at preventing those project management nightmares? Here are some keys for IT project managers:

  1. Plan for the unpredictable – Obviously, you can’t predict every challenge that could come up, but the study found many of the events that derailed IT projects were rare, but still clear enough risks that they could have been planned for in some capacity.
  2. Communicate properly from the beginning – For an IT project to be successful, the tech folks involved must have a complete understanding of what the business needs and what it wants the project to accomplish. For that to work, you need to have IT people that understand the business — as well as business people that understand IT.
  3. Get — and give — the right information – A critical part of the communication process is making sure the planners of the project, both on the IT and business side, have the right data at their disposal. That can be tough to do — when the businesses cases for projects are prepared, costs and time frames are often underestimated, while benefits are overestimated. Tweaking those numbers may help one side get what it wants in the short term, but ultimately, it will lead to bad decisions being made.
  4. Reduce size and complexity – Another big factor that contributes to an IT project’s failure is its length — the longer a project lasts the greater the chance for obstacles to pile on top of each other and become insurmountable. That’s why it’s often effective to break big projects into smaller steps. It’s especially helpful if each mini-project has a business benefit of its own.
  5. Put the right person in charge – Every IT project needs an effective project manager. This overseer should be someone with a track record of delivering projects on time and on budget, and with the right interpersonal and communication skills needed to be a bridge between IT and the business.

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