A very common scene in the IT sector is a conversation between the project manager and his supervisor after a project that has not been entirely successful. Subject of conversation is the reason for the failure of the project. The outcome of the interview is the agreement that the project manager will improve his skills by following a refresher course or will use a more sophisticated management system such as a computerized asset management system.
A familiar phenomenon for many project managers in the IT sector is the ritual meeting if the quarterly figures are disappointing. During this event, which is amply layered with PowerPoint slides, all sorts of ‘new’ techniques and methods will be discussed that will enable them to manage successful projects even better. After completing such a session, the professionalism of the project manager has improved considerably and he is even better able to manage quality, risks and people. Unfortunately, reality turns out to be more and more unstable.
Despite the abundance of literature on project management and the emergence of newer and even better methods, we learn little or nothing. The failure factors from the early 1980s (so far the research goes back) are apparently ineradicable and still cause failed ICT projects. Failure means that the result – if any – does not meet what was agreed beforehand, and that the project exceeds the planning and costs by more than 50 percent.
Seven failure factors
The seven ineradicable factors are:
1. Bad project management
2. Unrealistic deadlines
3. Bad communication
4. Unclear requirements
5. Insufficient involvement of future users
6. Lack of involvement and dedication of the responsible management
7. Lack of expertise – for executives and (project) managers.
We need to determine the cause of these ineradicable pitfalls and failure factors. We need to know how to avoid failure factors and pitfalls. And, as was to be expected, these tips are generally no more than the opposite of the failure factor. We might be able to use a new approach for several failures using a formula of mtbf for example.
In fact, the project manager has a major role to play. He is at the top of the list of failure factors. Is it then the project manager who causes a large part of the ICT projects to fail? Is he the one who has ensured that ICT projects have become synonymous with budget and time overruns? That seems a bit too much for all of us. After all, a project manager has a very modest role in a project: the real work is done by the specialists.
Root of all evil
If the project manager is not the root or all evil, who or what is that? Although the project manager is wrongly designated as the main culprit, this false accusation does contain a clue. It is the over-emphasis placed on management aspects of a project that leads to repeated failure. We should deal in methods and techniques to carry out work in a controlled manner. Methods and techniques that are often a selling point without the added value for the customer being demonstrated. The customer is also participating in this circus just as hard by asking certified project managers more and more. The ICT service providers then flutter with the most beautiful certificates and methodologies.
The proliferation of ‘new’ project management methodologies is a reaction to the frequently expressed complaint that projects fail as a result of poor project management. In itself a logical reaction, but has it had the desired effect? The answer to this question is: no. For decades, new methodologies and toolboxes are being developed, existing methods are being revised and still poor project management is the number one failure factor. The preliminary, cautious conclusion we can draw from this observation is that not bad project management is the main cause for project failure, but that it is rather too much attention for project management that contributes to the failure of projects.