NHS IT project is dead, but why do large IT projects fail? Part 4

Following the unsurprising news that the NHS National Project for IT has been dropped I thought it apt to blog some of the views I have recently had provided to me for an unrelated feature I am working on. The feature, which will appear in two parts on Computerweekly.com soon, asks the question: Why do large IT projects fail?

I started with the comments made by Brian Randell. Randell is a professor of at the School of Computing Science at Newcastle University. He was a member of the group of academics who became concerned about the UK National Health Service’s National Programme for Information Technology (NPfIT).

Then part two came from Anthony Finkelstein. He is professor of software systems engineering at University College London (UCL) and dean of UCL Engineering. Active in industry consulting, he is a fellow of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the British Computer Society (BCS).

Part three, was from Yann L’Huillier, group CIO at financial services giant Compagnie Financiere Tradition, who has also headed up IT at several of the world’s t stock exchanges.

Today in Part 4, James Martin, the former IT COO Europe at investment bank Lehman Brothers, gives us his views.

James now managing director at start-up Firmrater. Over the past 17 years he has worked for several retail and investment banks, often in the IT COO role. He has been involved in hundreds of large IT projects including three global Year 2000 programmes.

He says: “In my experience the key reasons for IT project failure have been consistent across firms and around the world. My top 5 pitfalls are: Lack of robust business requirements at the outset, leading to unrealistic IT project budgets and timescales; business sponsorship and participation start off strong and then tail off, leaving the IT project drifting; red herring stakeholders’ frustrating a project by raising numerous side issues and minor concerns; the world outside moving on, forces a project to be re-defined during its course so it never really ends, it just runs out of steam; and the administrative burden imposed on the IT team eats more resource than technical development work.

The large projects which have been most successful tended to be externally visible to customers, regulators, the public and media. I’ve also seen ‘best practice’ lead to ‘worst result’ projects far too often and I believe that’s the root cause of the problem: process has greater emphasis than outcome and that’s not going to get a project over the line.”