NHS IT project is dead, but why do large IT projects fail? Part 22.

Following the news that the NHS National Project for IT was dropped I have been posting some of the views I have recently had provided to me for an unrelated feature I was working on about why large IT projects are prone to fail.

Because I have had such a good response I am keeping the debate going in the blog.

Here are the posts already published: Part 1 Brian Randell, part 2 Anthony Finkelstein, part 3 Yann L’Huillier, part 4 James Martin, part 5 Philip Virgo , part 6 Tony Collins, part 7 ILan Oshri, part 8, Robert Morgan part 9 Sam Kingston, part 10 Peter Brudenal, part 11 Mark Lewis,  part 12  John Worthy, part 13 Stuart Drew, part 14 Milan Gupta, part 15 from a reader known as Matt, part 16 Fotis Karonis, part 17 Fergus Cloughley, part 18  Steve Haines, part 19 David Holling, part 20  Bryan Cruickshank and part 21  Rob Lee.

Today, in part 22, Tony Prestedge, executive director group development and operations at Nationwide gives us his views.

Prestedge is no stranger to large IT projects. He is responsible for Nationwide’s £1bn IT transformation project.

He says: “Spectacular failures are newsworthy but less common than getting over the finish-line by trading between a project’s original scope, budget and schedule. Understanding failure in this context – trade-offs as pragmatism vs. failure – is closer to most people’s experience of big project ‘failure’.

This throws up an interesting question. An ambitious corporate strategy necessitates multiple big projects – as is the case with Nationwide – requiring a view of success at a portfolio level. Have we failed if we achieve the greater goal at the expense of individual projects deviating from plan?

The world doesn’t stay still. The clarity of the strategic direction is critically important in assessing the success of ‘big’ projects against the ‘big’ picture.

Still, the question remains, do some reasons for ‘failure’ only crop up on big projects? Experience suggests the same factors affect all projects. However, the bigger the project the more likely they are to occur and the mitigation required grows disproportionately.
Big projects take longer so are more likely to experience life’s unpredictable events, they involve more people so are harder to align, they touch more systems so are harder to spec and change control, etc. They need a more pessimistic approach to contingency and governance than smaller ones.
For me success or failure is simply about quality of leadership, team capability, partnerships based on trust and an obsessive focus on execution.

Competent people well led towards a simple and singular outcome works everytime.”