According to the 2009 CHAOS report published by the market research firm, the Standish Group, IT Project failure rate increased in the last 2 years of recession.  No surprise.

According to the report the rate of successful projects that were delivered on-time, within budget, and with the required features, dropped from 35% in 2006 to 32% in the last two years.  Also the rate of failed projects increased from 19% in 2006 to 24% recently, which included projects that were deemed complete failure and either never delivered, or delivered but never used.  The rest of the projects were considered challenged, those that were delivered late, with incomplete features, or went significantly over-budget.

As IT leaders do we see something wrong with this picture?  Keep in mind that out of projects that are usually successfully delivered, some are trivial to begin with, while some others start out with a bigger-than-required budget due to over-estimation.  This consideration drives the rate of success as reported by Standish even further down.

There have been numerous people who have written about how the lack of user involvement, unrealistic expectations, poor requirements, poor design, scope creep, etc. play a role in the failure of IT projects.  I do not disagree, but I think the problem is much more deep-rooted than what is generally pointed out.

I view these high failure rates as a direct result of:

  • Incapable IT Leadership; and
  • Incapable Technical Leadership

Keep in mind that IT leadership is not necessarily the same as the Technical Leadership.  I consider IT Leadership as high-level IT executives that are aligned with the business, for example, CIO’s, CTO’s. etc.  Technical Leadership, on the other hand, consists of Technical Architects, Solution Architects, and the like.

Lack of user involvement or unrealistic expectations, for example, point straight at the failure of the IT leadership.  IT leaders must make sure that they have proper processes as well as resources in place to involve and educate the users.  They are also responsible for convincing the business one way or the other, and analyzing and mitigating any risks before they become cause for failures.

Similarly it’s the responsibility of the technical leadership to ensure that proper requirements are in place before they embark on their journey of design and implementation, and that their designs actually do address all the business and other requirements.

Whatever the reasons, failure should not be an option.  If a project fails, I believe it’s because the leadership failed to do their job.

With budget cuts that come with the recession that’s still holding strong, as well as the ever increasing complexity of IT projects, I see the rate of success driving even further down the next time the Standish Group publishes it’s CHAOS report.  I really hope that I am wrong, but without a major paradigm shift in the IT and the technical leadership, I really do not see how that would be possible.

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