Completing an IT project isn’t a sure thing—in fact, it’s far from it. Between 20% and 50% of IT initiatives fail for a wide variety of factors. Others may not fail entirely, but they don’t quite measure up to expectations, either.
Determining the cause of the failure is sometimes a simple process, but often it’s a challenge. IT teams have so many aspects to consider, and any of them can contribute to problems in a project.
Common Causes of IT Project Failure
Although the barriers to success are often ambiguous, some common ones do rise to the surface. They include the following:
- Lack of clarity. As many as 30% of IT service-management projects are never finished owing to a lack of clarity or the presence of flaws in the service definition. If these problems exist from the get-go, the IT team may find that no amount of skills or knowledge can push it through to the finish line.
- Starting for the wrong reasons. A project is unlikely to be successful if it doesn’t focus on making a product that will be helpful for the end user.
- Trying to change too much too quickly. Companies sometimes attempt to roll out new systems to all their employees at once. Doing so can overwhelm people, especially if they haven’t been properly trained in how to use the new product. If there problems are with the system, they then affect the whole company at once—sometimes with disastrous consequences.
- Although your system may work wonderfully, if your customers can’t figure out how to use it, it won’t do them any good. Striking the right balance between capability and user friendliness takes skill, but it’s crucial. If you lean too far toward the engineering side, your project won’t have the desired impact.
- Company-culture issues. If a majority or an influential minority of employees resist change, successfully implementing a new IT endeavor can become harder. On the other hand, if the IT department is closed to feedback, it won’t be able to give clients what they need because it’ll be unaware of what needs fixing. Again, it’s about making the design usable for your customer.
These challenges may seem difficult to overcome because of their ambiguity and the wide-scale efforts they might entail. It’s true—avoiding these traps won’t always be easy. But in the interest of helping your next IT project succeed, here six tips to help you do just that.
1. Focus on the End User
It might be obvious from the common issues above, but one of the most powerful things IT can do to help a project succeed is to focus unrelentingly on the end user. During a project, it’s easy to get lost in the technical aspects and let usability fall by the wayside.
At times, IT personnel may not even realize that a system is too complex for clients to use. Because they’re technology experts, it might seem simple to them. IT professionals must always keep the experience and skill levels of their customers in mind. It’s useful to conduct a survey before beginning a project to get an idea of how comfortable everyone is with the type of technology you’re working on.
To better understand the needs of the client, it’s also helpful to check in with them throughout the project and enable them to easily give you feedback and ask questions.
2. Verify Understanding
IT efforts that are poorly defined from the start are usually doomed to fail. Making sure everyone is on the same page from the outset is crucial. Everyone on the IT team must understand the project’s goals and their role in reaching those goals.
The leaders of the project team also need to be sure that there are no misunderstandings between them and the client. If the two sides have different goals in mind, the customer won’t be happy with the result of the initiative.
Misunderstandings can lead to results that fail to meet client expectations or that produce cost overruns and ineffective programs. Before you start, verify that you and the other party have communicated effectively to avoid problems down the road. You should also keep an open line of communication as the job progresses. People should feel free to ask questions, offer suggestions and express concerns, and they should have a quick, easy way to do so.
3. Plan and Set Goals
Part of keeping everyone on the same page involves planning and setting clear benchmarks. The more meticulously you do so, the better organized your efforts will be.
Break the project down into many smaller projects, and assign teams to complete each of those sub-goals. You could allocate specific jobs to people on a team, or let a team sort that part out themselves. These initiatives should all have defined goals so everyone knows exactly when they’re done with their tasks. Have groups mark off completed tasks on a checklist and submit progress reports.
You should also define your long-term goals before you begin the project. You must know what you’re trying to achieve before you can start working on it. Make things easier by creating specific benchmarks that let you know the project is complete when they’re fulfilled. Doing so will help prevent overengineering and keep you focused throughout the initiative.
4. Hire a Psychologist
It might seem a bit strange to put a doctor on an IT team, but it’s a trend that numerous companies are getting behind because, simply put, it works. IT professionals are typically more focused on the technology side than on anyone else. This tendency can create a disconnect between IT teams and their clients, resulting in miscommunication and projects that people don’t know how to use or don’t want to use.
IT professionals are technology experts, but IT contains a human element as well. People must be able to interact with the systems that IT departments implement. How exactly they will do so can be difficult to predict.
That’s why organizations such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the British tax agency, are hiring behavioral and cognitive scientists to work with IT. They help the team understand the clients’ mindsets and how they will likely interact with information they’re presented. At HMRC, organizational psychologists help data analysts to recognize their confirmation biases, which cause them to seek out information that confirms what they already believe.
These and other innovative ideas could lead to more-user-friendly, more-people-focused IT projects.
5. Test in Small Batches
Attempting to implement a technological change across an entire company at once, especially if it’s a large corporation, can lead to problems. People may feel overwhelmed by the sudden change and resist it, or struggle to figure out how to work the new system. Difficulties with the technical aspects of the system might also reveal themselves at the beginning of the rollout.
If the system is already in use across the whole business, those bugs or user difficulties could have severe consequences. Employees may experience a drop in productivity, as a component of the tech infrastructure is either entirely or partially down.
To combat this situation, test the waters by launching any new developments in just one department first. This way, you can work out any bugs before they affect the whole company. Doing so will also make it easier for people to accept the change, since it’ll happen gradually. Plus, you’ll avoid overextending your IT department as people need help using the new technology.
6. Ensure Everyone’s Prepared
Even if you roll out a change gradually, introducing it can still cause problems if people are unprepared for it. Before you implement the results of your IT project, make sure everyone has received the proper training on how to use it. If they haven’t, they won’t find your project useful and may want to stop using it.
Be sure to plan training sessions ahead of time so they can be scheduled for before the new system is implemented. That way, you’ll cut down on confusion, rolling out the results of your project will go more smoothly, and your clients will find your creation more useful.
A lot goes into an IT project, which means a lot can go wrong. By identifying some of the common mishaps that befall these initiatives, you can avoid them in the future and create more-efficient and more-user-friendly IT projects.
About the Author
Kayla Matthews is a technology writer and reporter, contributing to websites such as VentureBeat, Vice, MakeUseOf and TechnoBuffalo. Visit ProductivityBytes.com to read more recent posts by Kayla.