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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.

"If, as the project unfolds, downstream impacts such as an increased need for organisational change management become apparent, then decisions on time, effort and expectations can be more easily tackled," Corcoran adds.

The 'key' criteria?
The triumvirate of criteria — time, budget, scope — are not always as clear cut or as exclusive as some might think.

Smyrk, who consults to industry through Sigma Management Science and is a Visiting Fellow in the Business School at Sydney University, recently co-authored a book with the Australian National University's Ofer Zwikael on the subject, Project Management for the Creation of Organisational Value.

Classic elements of what he calls the 'iron triangle' are often used as the measures of the success of a project, but there may be end effects that are "unexpected, unacceptable and avoidable". Smyrk calls these "detrimental outcomes".

As an example, he cites a project manager who fulfils his project triangle, but in doing so puts his team under so much pressure that key technical staff resign towards the end of the project.

"If the loss of staff was considered a detrimental outcome, the conclusion is that the iron triangle fails as a test of project management success, because it ignores those detrimental outcomes that can be attributed to the management of the project," Smyrk explains.

This then leads to a 'steel tetrahedron' — scope/quality, timeframe, cost and 'acceptable' detrimental outcomes (collateral damage in the military).

"Even if the project meets these four criteria, but doesn't give the investment return expected, then it is an 'investment failure'," he continues. "It must be a project ownership failure and the project owner would be regarded as also failing".

An example is the Cross City Tunnel in Sydney, which achieved the criteria for project success, but then failed to meet the investment criteria: 30,000 cars per day out of the CBD rather than the targeted 90,000. That the Tunnel was a project management success was of little comfort.

Increases in time and cost do not necessarily imply a project 'blowout', Smyrk says, if this has been accepted as a possible scenario and funded accordingly. "If a situation had not been identified, then the timeframe and budget have certainly been blown, but even this does not imply a failure of project management unless it can be shown that such a risk should have been identified."

The customers
Regular communication with customers or end users is regarded as essential in the project governance mix. "The importance of this is often largely underestimated and is a main contributor to why projects are continually delayed, or not well adopted or accepted by the user community," Corcoran says.

 

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