Only You Can Prevent Project Failure 

Esteban Kolsky | Sep 23, 2009 621 views 6 Comments

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Fifty percent of CRM Projects Fail.

Thirty Five Percent of all IT Projects Fail.

Do you know why? Asuret does.

You probably read Michael Krigsman column on ZDNet dealing with failure. If you can say this without smiling, he knows how to fail. He also knows how to prevent it. His company is Asuret and they have created a solution that leverages wisdom of the crowds principles to show you critical project health indicators in a easy-to-navigate platform to help you avoid, or at least manage, the type of risk that carries failure with it. I saw a demo a couple of weeks ago, and I am still impressed with what I saw.

You know your employees know more than they are willing to express freely (they may fear for their job, or to hurt someone’s feelings, or to cause political problems, or to expose their own weaknesses, or– you can add your own reasons why here). In addition, you know that what they are not saying could be the difference between success and failure. Even though Change and Risk Management programs are designed to manage that risk, not many organizations undertake them; the ones that do don’t really understand exactly how to use change management efficiently and their half-baked efforts don’t manage all the risk.

Asuret created a solution that collects information from stakeholders in different departments in the company as enterprise IT projects are company-wide initiatives that affect all departments and all people in the company. Asuret also collects information from the solution providers (consultants or integrators) and vendors if any of them are involved in the project. Using an electronic questionnaire that takes about 15-20 minutes to get through and all questions are multiple choice. This questionnaire has some “demographics” information (such as department, job function) but it also has thresholds built in to prevent an answer to become identifiable. In other words, this is all very confidential and results are only shared with the appropriate people in an anonymous manner.

To build the questionnaire they create a model of the project to reflect the current situation, risks to monitor, and particulars for that specific stage of the project. Questions are drawn from a question repository with options for different type of projects (e.g. CRM vs ERP) and different stages (e.g. launching vs end of the first stage). As agile projects change the focus and methodology from stage to stage the questions vary slightly from one stage to the next. These questions are divided across seven key vulnerability areas (these areas came as a result of years of consulting in change management). See figure 1.


Figure 1 – Key Vulnerabilities Leading to Project Failure

Once they have the questionnaire compiled they write the potential answers for each of the questions – and assign a numerical value to each answer. (see figure 2 for an example). The methodology is similar to the one I used when doing Magic Quadrants and Marketscopes – and it is the key to remaining impartial. Doing this allows them to convert the textual answers to numerical values — which is the next critical part of this process.

Possible Answers to Question on Executive Sponsorship

Figure 2 – Possible Answers to Question on Executive SponsorshipT

These questions (under 50, but varies for each project type and stage) are asked of all concerned stakeholders in the company and third-parties associated with the project. You can probably start to see the value of knowing what everyone in the company – not just the project people – think of management stability. Aggregating the answers to all these questions we begin to see the chances for the project to succeed.

And that is exactly what the third step does — with a twist. See figure 3 for more details.


Figure 3 – Rollup of all Answers in Asuret Product

By aggregating the data for each question asked and the importance level assigned to each, and cross-tabbing that with the consensus (i.e. how many people think it is a problem), you get a clear picture of what the stakeholders and associated third parties think of the project, and its chances of success. That by itself is great, but you can also drill down in each score by job function, by department, and basically by any of the demographics you selected when you created the questionnaire.

Can you imagine if you know before you begin the project that IT doubts the executive leadership? Or that the business stakeholders believe that the vendors are going to be a problem? Or that the Executives think that the PMO (project management office) does not have the necessary requirements to succeed in the project?

Talk about Change and Risk Management!

This is a path to success in the project. You know what problems you are going to find, what hurdles, and how to schedule and manage your project accordingly.

I have been in several large projects in my corporate life, both as a consultant as well as a member of the teams. I can tell you that all this information is what is usually known after the project starts (actually, usually at the point of failure), because the people who know this beforehand did not want to say anything for fear of retribution of getting into trouble.

As I said, only you can prevent Project Failure — but take a look at Asuret to help you there.

What do you think? Interesting enough? Has a chance? Would you use it?

Disclaimer: Asuret is neither a client nor a prospect of mine, and I am not compensated in any way for this post. As I said before, I only talk about the products I truly believe in and think that would be interesting to the readers. There is no conflict of interest, no sponsorship, and no relationship with Asuret that has influenced my opinion of their product. It is just that cool.

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6 Responses to Only You Can Prevent Project Failure

  1. Graham Hill September 24, 2009 at 2:21 am (992 comments) #

    Hi Esteban

    Very interesting post.

    My immediate response was what a great idea. Combining the power of surveying various people across the organisation together with some measures that people recognise are related to project success or failure.

    But after the initial elation and a quick look around the Asuret website, the doubts quickly start to creep in.

    The Asuret model implicitly assumes that it understands what drives project success and project failure in all circumstances. (I say project here rather than IT project because no competently run IT project will ever be about IT alone). I do not believe Asuret can possibly have this understanding. This is partly because no-one really has this understanding in sufficient detail, not to develop an analytical solution (I am pretty sure that Azuret cound not explain the dynamic capabilities and micro-foundations of successful project management – the gold standard of business understanding today). And partly because whilst all projects share some commonalities, they are all are rather different too. These differences are difficult to capture in a one-size-fits-all tool. Yet it is these differences that create many of the difficulties that projects face.

    Would I use the Asuret tool? Probably not. Not because i don’t believe it is useful as a crude guide to the obstacles that often block project management success, but because I believe that these tools provide a false sense of security for project management in their results. If we could reduce project management success to a few knobs, dials and levers, we would have done it years ago. But we haven’t. Because we can’t. At least, not yet.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  2. Andrew Rudin September 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm (861 comments) #

    Hi Estaban: it’s great to read about new out-of-the-box tools, especially for risk identification and mitigation. The first thing to jump out was the failure statistic. True that failures occur more often than they have to, but what, exactly, constitutes failure? Thirty-five percent seems high, but by what standard? Over budget by X%? Scrapped after X months? Abandoned following pilot implementation?

    Second, every organization has a different tolerance (or acceptance) for risk. I wasn’t clear how Asuret software enabled a company to adjust different thresholds for different variables.

    Third, although I’m sure Asuret addresses these somewhere, Figure 1 didn’t cover IT environment risks(platform/architecture/infrastructure), usability risks, obsolescense risks, and others.

    Fourth, one of the greatest challenges in risk management is the identification of elements that, by themselves, don’t pose a threat, but when combined with other elements have high impact. Does Asuret enable companies to specify and/or identify such dependencies?

    Finally, I was concerned that when using Asuret’s risk tool, the Hawthorne Effect could bias the project before initiation.

    In any case, it would be interesting to take the software through its paces and see how it works.

  3. Michael Krigsman September 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm (2 comments) #

    Graham, Great points and I appreciate your taking the time to comment. A few thoughts, however, to clarify what Asuret actually does.

    We offer a solution that packages knowledge and experience into highly-configurable models, which we embed in our software. Experts and practitioners develop these models, which brings tremendous depth to different aspects of business transformation situations.

    You correctly pointed out the importance of looking across an organization to examine cross-silo issues. This is precisely where our platform excels. Remember, the knowledge of failure points is present among people working on a project. Asuret’s job is to surface that information, compare it to the model, analyze the data, and report conclusions.

    Trust me, this is a hardly a one-size-fits-all-approach. Rather, it is finely-grained and uncovers detail that is simply not available to most folks running a project. Let me know if you want to learn more and we’ll find a time to show you.

  4. Michael Krigsman September 25, 2009 at 5:46 pm (2 comments) #

    Andrew, The most important point is achieving positive results and outcomes on a projects. Regardless of how you calculate statistics and failure rates, we all know too many projects are late, over-budget, or do not achieve planned results.

    Asuret offers a specific process for using this platform with customers. That methodology raises the profile of key issues while garnering stakeholder consensus around key issues. One clear effect is to heighten awareness of potential problems among stakeholders.

    Denial is so closely associated with failures that raising awareness is an important step in helping break the cycle of failure that many organizations experience. Check out my blog to see many discussions of this important issue.

  5. Bob Thompson September 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm (875 comments) #

    Tools are not a “silver bullet.” Neither are consultants.

    From what Esteban describes and upon visiting the web site, Asuret appears to offer a useful tool that would do what good consultants do: gather input and put the data through a framework to identify things to focus on. And then apply some judgment to make a decision on actions needed.

    Will it work in all circumstances? Of course not. But then, neither will a consultant.

    For every company that might be able to hire an experienced consultant to figure this stuff out, there are probably hundreds or thousands who can’t or won’t. Let’s be honest, many people prefer to take the DIY approach and use tools, rather than hire experienced professionals. And not just in IT. Why else would we have Home Depot?

    Of course, DIY has been a great source of fix-it professionals that come in afterward to clean up botched jobs. And I have the credit card receipts for payments to my local plumber to prove it. But that’s another story.

    Asuret’s solution appears to be a mix of services supported by this tool, and uses collaborative techniques to engage the organization. Makes sense to me. I’m glad someone is treating IT failures as a serious issue.

  6. Esteban Kolsky September 30, 2009 at 12:41 am (55 comments) #

    35% of failure, and 50% for that matter, is related to failure to accomplish pre-established goals and objectives.

    Asuret does not do any magic, but I thought it was a great tool for people to try to prevent project failure. i know if i would have had it before we could’ve, potentially, avoided some issues in a large number of projects I participated in. the ability to collect and use anonymous feedback about the problems facing the project is truly remarkable and the tools seems to do a good job of exploring that in detail.

    that is all i was trying to highlight. can it do magic? no. it is just another tool. a very valuable in my opinion, but needs human handlers to be truly valuable.

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