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Successful projects don't just happen

Paying attention to the challenges and reasons behind project failure will help to avoid these pitfalls.

Read time 5min 00sec

One of the hallmarks of an effective IT organisation is its ability to successfully implement projects. As a result, project management has become an important tool for implementing an organisation's business strategy.

Forward-thinking IT leaders have realised that the commodity functions of IT, like keeping the network up and the servers humming, are now a baseline expectation. Increasingly, projects are becoming the yardstick through which success or failure is measured. Managing IT projects can be a mammoth undertaking, especially those with six-figure budgets and ambitious roll-out schedules.

There is neither room nor tolerance for project delays and budget overruns.

Brent Flint is services executive for Dimension Data Middle East and Africa.

With so much riding on the outcome of these projects, it is imperative that companies stack their decks in favour of success. It is important for organisations to adhere to sound project management practices to ensure the execution of winning projects. In order to ensure that IT projects succeed, companies must pay attention to the challenges and reasons that may lead to the failure of IT projects.

The challenge

The market demonstrates increasingly complex IT architectures, an expanding convolution of compliance, the proliferation of convergence technologies and the rise of cloud computing models. Without doubt, the current business landscape is more volatile and more challenging than ever before. It is no secret that for a company to stay at the top of its game, it needs to constantly consider myriad new solutions that have the potential to harness greater efficiencies and reduce both capital and operational expenditure.

Chances are that new systems will entail an upgrade or refresh of the IT infrastructure - projects that are critical to the company's success. With the fragile economy, it is now more important than ever that the highest standards are applied to project management in the organisation - there is neither room nor tolerance for project delays and budget overruns. Increasingly, however, companies are being forced to manage critical projects with limited staff, smaller budgets and fewer resources.

As a result, all too often CIOs find themselves engaged in an ongoing struggle to deliver their IT projects in line with expectations. Do any of these pain points sound familiar?

Projects are consistently completed late, over budget, or fail to meet agreed upon requirements; standard processes and techniques are applied haphazardly, stress and overtime work run rife throughout the project's life cycle, and the end results fail to deliver the business value promised.

Indeed, statistics demonstrate that a high percentage of IT projects miss the mark. According to a 2009 study* by the Standish Group, only 32% of all IT projects 'succeed' (delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions), 44% are 'challenged' (late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions) and 24% 'fail' (cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used).

Why IT projects fail

What causes so many IT projects to flounder? There are many reasons. Managing an IT project is a juggling act. IT is always moving, changing, adapting and challenging business. IT projects fail because they're simply harder. They include the usual project management factors, such as deadlines, budget constraints and too few people to devote to the project. But they also face unique technology challenges, from hardware, operating system, network or database woes, to security risks, interoperability issues, and the changes manufacturers make to their hardware and software configurations.

IT project management is complicated further by shifting business needs and demanding stakeholders, the combination of which creates the perfect storm for project inefficiencies and failures. And the problem only intensifies as IT grows ubiquitous.

Insufficient planning is another common cause for the demise of IT projects. Organisation, rigour and discipline are non-negotiable. Companies need to consider the resources they have to devote to a project, the skills required, and realistically consider the time it will take to develop, test and implement the project deliverables. Without proper planning, companies will have little chance of completing the project on time, on budget or with the required functionality, which are three common factors for project success.

IT projects also often fail because they're rushed. Because so many companies today rely on IT for competitive advantage, they speed through development efforts and systems implementations in order to be first to market with new, IT-based products, services and capabilities. But projects that are tackled without sufficient time being set aside for planning, risk assessment and testing will be doomed from the start. Without proper planning, there will be little chance of completing the project on time, on budget or with the required functionality, which are three common factors for project success.

Keeping it real

IT projects will always involve a certain element of risk, that's the nature of the beast. There are so many technology variables in an average IT network that it is nearly impossible to plan for everything that may arise. Nevertheless, putting in place a robust yet flexible project management methodology and having a competent partner will go a long way to putting the next IT project on the path to success.

When project failures and ineffective project management practices impair business performance, organisations look for solutions. The good news is that project management success is within a company's grasp - if it is done right.

Success can be achieved by using sound project management techniques and processes which can increase the likelihood of the project being completed on time, within budget, and to an acceptable level of quality.

Brent Flint

services executive for Dimension Data Middle East & Africa.

Brent Flint is services executive for Dimension Data Middle East & Africa. He has been a part of the Dimension Data team for 20 years, occupying strategic leadership roles in critical business areas through many of the company’s most critical milestones and evolutionary steps. During his tenure as GM for Services Sales, he developed the sales strategy for long-term deals and managed the services production management function. He then took on the role of senior GM for Services in 2007, driving the Middle East & Africa’s strategy, including the Services strategic initiatives execution plan. Under his leadership, the Services business exceeded its budgeted targets for FY08 and FY09. Flint has also been key in driving visibility across the Services organisation and creating a culture of “running a business” – not just a delivery arm. This has led to the Services team enjoying a record year in terms of new Services contracts across Middle East and Africa, and growing revenue by over 17% to R2.9 billion. In his current role as services executive, Flint focuses on providing management and strategic leadership to the Services team. He brings with him a wealth of experience and an intimate understanding of the IT services market across the region. Flint has strong relationships at a global level and actively helped shape the Dimension Data global development roadmap, including the execution of projects such as Uptime. Flint has a strong background in core business and technology areas. These include client engagement, IT service management and managed services consultative selling in the general commercial space, and Microsoft infrastructures, Cisco routers, LAN, security and voice, and systems management in the technology space. He has a solid bank of academic qualifications, including being selected for the Global Leadership Development Programme through the Gordon Institute of Business Science, the Management Advancement Programme through Manchester Business School, and numerous technical courses with DCIS, Cisco, Cabletron and other influential vendors.

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