Secrets of your project success

Computer Weekly is working with The Coverdale Organisation to discover why IT projects fail, and to offer solutions, backed by...

Computer Weekly is working with The Coverdale Organisation to discover why IT projects fail, and to offer solutions, backed by training opportunities, that will help IT project leaders to succeed, writes Karl Schneider

What are the key factors that make a successful IT project? And, perhaps more importantly, what are the factors that make a project likely to fail?

These are key questions for senior IT professionals because IT projects, historically, have a poor track record. As IT becomes increasingly central to business strategy the ability to deliver successful IT projects is going to be all the more important to business.

Research by industry analyst Forrester in the late 1990s found that almost half of all major IT projects failed completely - that is they failed to deliver any of the main objectives set out at the start of the project - usually because they were cancelled before completion.

Forrester also found that more than two-thirds of major IT projects failed to a significant extent.

Computer Weekly and The Coverdale Organisation, one of the UK's leading process consultancies, have teamed up to conduct the biggest-ever piece of research into what makes the difference between success and failure in IT projects.

The 2001 Project Leadership Report, involving more than 500 senior IT professionals, aims to uncover in more detail than ever before the factors that play a key role in steering projects towards triumph or tragedy.

Factors that will be covered in the research include:

  • The project leader: how important are communication skills? How strongly are leaders committed to the project? Do they need to have a deep understanding of the technology involved? Is previous experience of similar projects a crucial factor? Does it matter if they have been trained to use formal project management methodologies and tools?

  • The project team: how serious is it if roles and responsibilities are fluid? Does it matter if they have never worked together as a team before? Does the team need formal project management training? How technically competent must they be?

  • The project process: how precisely should project objectives be defined? Is changing the objectives mid-project a guarantee of failure? How important is it that everyone has a clear understanding of the objectives? Are unrealistic estimates a common factor in failed projects? What about a formal reporting process? How should risk management be handled? How tightly should the project's progress be monitored?

  • Stakeholders: how involved should senior managers be in key projects? How important is it to keep all stakeholders up to date with progress? Is a steering committee essential, and who should be on it? What about the role of end-users?

  • Suppliers and third parties: how important is it to choose suppliers with experience of a similar project? How important is the cultural fit between suppliers and the customer? Are outside suppliers often not up to the technical standards required? How tightly should project leaders manage outside consultants?

Denis Cummings, a principal consultant at The Coverdale Organisation, has worked with a host of blue-chip UK companies on large projects involving change in some form. He says that he sees the same mistakes being made repeatedly in major projects.

"Our experience is that most managers of projects have little or no formal training in project management - they often make it up as they go along." Cummings says that those who do have training have often focused on the tools and methodologies, rather than more fundamental issues. "Our experience is that it is the human dimension of projects that is the one most frequently overlooked. Yet it is the one that can secure the most significant and stunning success," he said. The Computer Weekly and Coverdale Organisation workshops will help you to get it right.

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