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Avoiding tech project failures (2)

by Randall Craig on July 1, 2016

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Planning

Tagged as: , , , ,

Have you ever had a problem – or a disastrous – project in your organization?  When this happens, it is often “clear” that the problem is with the consultants hired to help, and sadly, this is often true. But is some of the fault also with your organization?  While a previous post looked at issues from an external perspective, this post looks in the mirror:  can a project be structured in a way that can minimize the potential for it to go off the rails? And more specifically, what are some of the root factors that you might do something about?

  • Inconsistent leadership buy-in:  While most projects do have an executive sponsor, to be successful, most projects cut across organizational silos.  If the other groups do not see the project as important – and they get their lead from their executive managers – it is unlikely that they will spare the needed time.  Or worse, their disinterest (or unwillingness to change) may result in the project being sabotaged.
  • No internal project lead:  No matter how good the external consultants are, they don’t know your organization the way you do.  They don’t know your history, culture, affected stakeholders, nor can they fully interpret the political cues.  On a practical level, an internal project lead can wrangle internal resources, help with logistics, and be accountable for project progress.
  • Day job issue for resources:  Every project requires internal time commitments.  Staff are engaged during the discovery part of the engagement, during analysis and validation cycles, during training, and during the roll-out.  In fact, this engagement is precisely what will drive user buy-in and ultimately, a successful project. Yet these very same resources already have a day job, responsibilities, and deadlines.  Most will accept some additional work, but if the demand is excessive, or for two long a period of time, something will suffer: either their core responsibilities, or the project.
  • Inadequate budget:  As a higher ROI is a direct function of how low the cost can be driven, not unsurprisingly, there is great pressure to reduce the budget as much as possible.  If the internal time budget is limited, then analysis and training suffer – leading to the project’s benefits never being realized.   And if the external time budget is limited, then the opportunity for knowledge transfer (and the incorporation of best practices) is similarly limited.  In either case, project risk increases dramatically.
  • Inflated expectations:  It is too easy for both vendors and their internal sponsors to oversell both the ease of implementation, and the ultimate benefits of the project.  In some cases, expectations are so inflated that no matter how successful the project might be, it will be judged a failure. Realism, pragmatism, and perhaps a small dose of cynicism are far more healthy.

This week’s action plan:  Are all of your projects going exceptionally well?  Or do you think you just might be able to do better?  This week, review this list (and this one) and consider whether a slight mid-course correction – or a significant project pivot – can make a difference.

Management insight:  The best organizations use post-mortem meetings to understand how to improve in the future. This combined list of issues can also be used as a rating scale in these meetings: for each item, rate how well (or poorly) you did, along with how the grade might be improved on the next project.

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Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)



Randall has been advising on Digital Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of eight books, including Digital Transformation for Associations, the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business, and Social Media for Business. He speaks and advises on Digital Transformation, Digital Trust, and Social Media. More at

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