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Avoiding IT project disasters

Tim Mendham | Aug. 13, 2013
Your initiatives are often the most expensive, high profile and high risk.

"All projects are business projects; it's just that some have a significant IT component," says Rick Vosila, IT director of the company formerly known as Chubb Security now operating under United Technologies ownership.

He adds, however, that so-called IT projects are probably the most common and visible type of project in most organisations, and often the most expensive, high profile and high risk.

This has driven perceptions that IT projects are a recipe for disaster, are not properly planned out or managed, and end up being over-budget, over-schedule and under-performing in terms of promised functionality.

This depressing image has been a mantra of the oft-quoted and equally oft-derided Standish Group Chaos reports. By the consulting group's estimation, as many as two of every three IT projects fail — that is, they succumb to total failure and/or cancellation, suffer cost overruns, time overruns, or are rolled out with fewer features than expected.

Sometimes these failures have disastrous consequences beyond the extension of time and budget, and can seriously impact the continued existence of the organisation itself.

There are those who seriously doubt and argue against the methodologies used to develop the Chaos reports, but these arguments have not necessarily damped-down the poor image many IT projects have even before they kick off.

But is this image true? And what can be done to ensure project governance works toward successful project completion?

Purpose and process
Dexus Property Group recently completed its flexible working environment (FWE) project, the technology component of which came in significantly under budget and finalised more quickly than the two or three years expected.

Dexus GM for technology and operations, Clive Bailey, says FWE shares many principles with traditional activity based working (ABW) projects, but is not as rigid in its implementation. For example, people can sit at the same desk everyday if they want to.

"FWE is a functional fit-out based around the concept of creating an environment that encourages collaboration and innovation," he explains. "People are grouped in neighbourhoods defined by their area's storage and have access to collaborative spaces or quiet spaces, which suit their current working needs.

"Dexus senior management recognised technology was key to the success of the project. We had a technology project team that sat under the core 'office move' project team. The technology team supported the project's business objectives through research, product selection and implementation."

The underpinning of business objectives is equally significant. John Smyrk, a leading academic on project management thinking, suggests the important distinction in business terms between "output" and "outcome" is not always clear to those developing projects and management plans.

The difference can be explained through a non-IT example: A medical research project can lead to an output of a vaccine with the outcome of reduced sickness or death.


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