When Do IT Projects Fail?


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(Hint: it is AFTER go-live)

A friend of mine was telling me about an upcoming event that is focused on discussing failed organizational initiatives as way to learn and improve going forward.

This got me thinking, “At what point are IT projects considered failures?

Is it when the system doesn’t work? Is it when the system is delivered late? Do projects fail before go-live or after? Or, is it when the system meets all functional requirements, but sits idle and unused?

IT projects fail when they don’t deliver business value

Sure, you could make a lot of great arguments about the system failing due to technical reasons, and you wouldn’t be wrong, but for me, the answer is more complicated than that.

For example, the overall purpose of any software is for it to be used in a way that adds value to the organization. Even if a system doesn’t meet all functional specs, but is still used and delivers some business value, then it is still a win.

IT success or failure happens after users get the system

Arguably, IT projects don’t fail before go-live. Systems are tested before they are deployed. (At least, they should be.) And, if they don’t work, they don’t get deployed. But even if a system is deployed – what kind of business value does it generate if it just sits there and costs you money?

The reality is that IT systems only deliver business value when they are being used…which can only happen after go-live. (See where I’m heading here?) A system that meets all functional specifications but is ignored by end-users does nothing to create value.

The challenge then is how do you make sure your system is actually used and – therefore – creating value?

User adoption is on the critical path to IT success

Generally, the problem with most IT project plans is that they only cover the time up until the initial system deployment, ending at go-live. However, as we’ve already established, success is not achieved simply because you go live. The hard part is that after go-live – in the years the system is used — is the period of time when the project will be deemed a success or…a failure.

So, like anything else in life, if you want something to happen, you have to be pro-active and make it happen. Include user adoption on the critical path to success. It is not something that just happens at the conclusion of a successful IT project – it’s planned, managed and made to happen.

Include user adoption activities in your project plan

If you set the endpoint of your IT project beyond go-live and to the date by which you expect to achieve your ROI goals – that is when you have created business value – how would this change your critical path? What activities would you include on your critical path from the point of go-live forward? Do you have milestones for measuring user adoption? Do you have the resources you need? Do you even know what resources you need?

Recognizing that you need to drive IT user adoption in order to achieve IT success is a really the first step. Next, develop a comprehensive user adoption strategy, determine the appropriate user adoption methodology, and ensure you have the right resources to make it happen.

Without this, your IT project will not be a success.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, LLC, an organizational effectiveness consultancy specializing in driving and sustaining effective user adoption of IT systems. He works at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients actually achieved measurable business benefits from their technology investments.


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