~ By Kelly Waters
Studies on project failure are easy to find and make depressing reading. Gartner studies suggest that 75% of all US IT projects are considered to be failures by those responsible for initiating them. But what do they mean by failure?
They mean the solutions fundamentally did not do what was agreed. Or they missed deadlines. And/or came in over budget. Indeed half of the projects exceeded budget by 200%!
A Standish Group study, again in the US IT industry, found that 31% of projects were cancelled outright and that the performance of 53% of the all projects was so worrying that they were challenged.
Some questions that need to be answered in assessing whether a project is fundamentally a success or failure?
I've scanned the Internet and read all sorts of articles and research on project failure, and consolidated them into a long list of reasons why IT projects most commonly fail. I've managed to eliminate all the duplicate reasons and boil it all down to these common areas, although it's still quite a long list, unfortunately for IT and project managers!
I'm sure we've all seen projects with all or some of these issues. You know, those projects "other people" run.
In reality, probably ALL projects have many of these issues. But somewhere there is a threshold. An undefined point where the issues are material to a project's chance of success, or its likelihood to fail. If only we knew where that point was!
Not one article or piece of research I read (and I read quite a few!) mentioned risk management. Not one. Lack of proactive risk management. Inability to identify or mitigate risks. Lack of focus on risks. Not one article or piece of research that I found. So that got me thinking. If we don't seem to acknowledge risk management, and we certainly don't seem to see it as a cause of failure, are we to believe that we as an IT industry have got risk management cracked? And if so, why do so many of our projects fail?
Secondly, I was thinking about how agile principles help to mitigate these risks? I have a strong view that agile methods help with some of these areas a lot, although I'm not sure all. And it also got me thinking that I don't recall reading about any formal mechanism or process for risk management within agile methods - unless I've missed or forgotten it. There's quite a bit of risk management inherently built into agile principles and practices, but there doesn't seem to be any explicit risk management discipline.
Thirdly, I started thinking about risk management in more formal project management methodologies such as PRINCE2. Risk management is certainly a key discipline there. But one of the key things I was taught as a PRINCE2-based project manager (once upon a time I was one), was to only highlight risks unique to the project, because there's no need to highlight the usual risks. We all know software development projects might run late, for instance. So we don't need to articulate it on a formal project proposal, or in the risk log, etc. But if we don't articulate and mitigate the usual risks, aren't we ignoring the risks most likely to cause our project to fail?
Kelly Waters is Head of Web Solutions for Reed Business Information (UK), the world's largest business-to-business publisher. By implementing agile development, he has transformed his department of more than 90 people. Prior to joining Reed Business, Kelly was CTO for Glass's Information Services, Europe's leading provider of information to the automotive industry, most famous for Glass's Guide, the UK's bible for used car prices. Kelly has been in software development for more than 20 years. He is well known as a narrator of agile development principles and practices, as a result of his popular blog "All About Agile" www.allaboutagile.com He is also a voluntary business advisor for Young Enterprise, an organisation that helps young people gain valuable business experience through practical projects.