Your next IT project will most likely fail

Your next IT project will most likely fail......

Current research on IT projects reveals that:

  • 30% are considered successful
  • 50% failed to deliver on all aspects
  • 20% failed outright
  • 45% of large IT projects go over budget
  • 7% take longer than planned
  • 75% of IT professionals believe that their IT projects were doomed from the start!
By Mark Morris

By Mark Morris

Inspirational visionary, solution architect, strategic consultant, a serial technology entrepreneur with extensive experience in start-ups, incubation, technology venture building, consumer goods, brand & retail sales & marketing.

Mark spent many years as a Marketing Analyst and Consumer Goods Marketing Manager marrying the art & science of retail sales and marketing before becoming a serially successful technology entrepreneur.

Leaving the corporate world in 2000, Mark co-founded technology incubator "Jam Warehouse" with projects such as "Brand Director", a product lifecycle management solution used by Tesco and other leading retail brands before focusing exclusively on his mobile sales force automation platform and taking a startup through multiple stages of capital-raising including angel, seed, venture capital and second-round funding and then into a profitable, growth-funded business ultimately delivering returns of over 600% to investors.

Returning in 2013 to the exciting world of startups & venture-building, Mark's latest adventures in innovation include fresh approaches to retail-analytics, retail promotion planning and execution, autonomous shopper-marketing and shopper-reward platforms using predictive analytics, big data, cloud services, RFID, Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning, across many sectors and industries.

What causes projects to fail?

More than 30 years of working in the IT project management space has shown be 8 reasons why IT projects fail, or better said, 8 reasons why they will succeed. 

people, man, office-2567566.jpg

1. Insufficient Leadership, from the outset

 Ask questions and gather information from all stakeholders to find out what they want and need to solve the problem.

Whenever I encounter any form of project failure, I look at the leadership context first, not for autocratic reasons but simply because this is the most critical and yet also most lacking feature required to avoid complex IT project failure.

Without strong leadership and direction, even the most technically proficient teams falter, leading to project delays, cost overruns, and ultimately, failure.

The success of projects depends not only on the technical expertise of the team but also on the ability of the leader to manage and align the efforts of all stakeholders. Leaders must have a clear vision, communicate it effectively, and ensure that all team members understand their roles and responsibilities. They should also be proactive in identifying and addressing risks and be able to make tough decisions when necessary.

Simply put; it’s the leader’s job to ensure that there is an understanding of the goals, objectives and clarity of purpose, at the outset, and throughout the process.

2. Preparation - Lack of time and effort to research to understand business requirements and to gather user input

Far too often, teams spring into execution mode immediately on reading the brief! Worst of all, it’s frequently the most proficient individuals (and their teams) that are most guilty of this “sin”. They have a sixth sense, an intuition, “I’ve seen this before” experience, tribal-knowledge and every reason under the sun to avoid the necessary evil of planning.

Admittedly not all the time, but almost all the time we get what we call “project spaghetti” as the juicy bits are completed fast and effectively and all the rest becomes a complicated mess.

3. Resourcing - Schedules and resources are insufficient for planning, project management and quality assurance

The success of complex IT projects hinges on a delicate balance of time, resources, and expertise. Adequate planning, meticulous project management, and rigorous quality assurance are the essential ingredients for ensuring that the project stays on track and delivers the expected outcomes. Like a skilled conductor leading a symphony, a good project manager must keep the team in perfect harmony, communicating progress, managing stakeholder expectations, and mitigating risks along the way. And just like a master craftsman, quality assurance ensures that the project meets the required standards of excellence. Without these crucial elements in place, the project is at risk of spiralling out of control, resulting in costly delays, budget overruns, and ultimately, failure. Therefore, it is essential to prioritise these key activities to ensure the success of complex IT projects and deliver outstanding results.

Failing to allocate sufficient time and resources for these activities will almost certainly result in delays, cost overruns, and project failure. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize planning, project management, and quality assurance to ensure the success of complex IT projects.

4. Lack of communication and collaboration

Effective communication and collaborations is essential to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and any issues or concerns are addressed promptly. This is especially important when working with distributed teams.

Even when there is frequent communication, the structure, administration and process let us down. Information gathered needs to organised and stored in appropriate places and ways in which the team can access and use it.

5. Projects are not design-led

Design-led IT projects prioritise user-centred design, meaning that the needs and preferences of end-users are at the forefront of the project’s design and development. This approach aims to create products or services that are intuitive and easy to use, resulting in higher user satisfaction and adoption rates.

On the other hand, engineering-led IT projects may prioritize technical requirements and functionality over user experience, which can lead to products or services that are difficult to use and ultimately fail to meet user needs and expectations.

Companies that prioritise design outperformed the S&P 500 by 219% over a 10-year period.

6. A project rhythm is not established and maintained

The best-managed IT projects are like a symphony, with each member of the team playing a unique role in bringing the project to fruition. But to truly create something magical, the team must march to the beat of an invisible drum – the pulse of the project that guides their every move. This rhythm, also known as “flow,” is what keeps the team in perfect harmony, moving together towards their common goal. And just like a skilled conductor, a good project manager knows how to get the music started and keep everyone in the orchestra sync. They provide the steady and rhythmic pulse that guides each member of the team through the steps to success. With their expert leadership, the team can play in harmony, weaving together their individual skills and talents into something truly extraordinary. And in the end, the magic of the music and the power of flow will be what carries the project to success.

7. The project delivery approach isn’t Agile

Research indicates that AGILE DevOps practices may lead to better project outcomes.

For example, a study by Puppet and DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) found that high-performing IT organizations that have adopted DevOps practices have:

  • 46x more frequent code deployments
  • 440x faster lead time from code commit to deployment
  • 96x faster mean time to recover from downtime
  • 5x lower change failure rate

These results suggest that organisations that have adopted DevOps practices will be more likely to achieve successful project outcomes.

Additionally, a survey conducted by the DevOps Institute in 2020 found that 74% of respondents believed that DevOps had improved their ability to deliver value to customers, while 63% reported improved quality and performance of applications.

That being said, it is important to note that DevOps is not a silver bullet, and successful adoption of DevOps practices requires significant cultural and organisational changes. It is possible that some organisations may struggle to fully realise the benefits of DevOps and may continue to experience high project failure rates.

Overall, while there is no clear consensus on the relationship between DevOps practices and project failure rates, there is evidence to suggest that adopting DevOps practices may improve project outcomes for some organizations.

8. No one thought about deployment (yet)?

In the fast-paced world of complex IT projects, development teams are often so focused on the task at hand that they forget about what comes next – the deployment phase.

This critical stage of the project is where the rubber meets the road, where software and infrastructure are released into the wild, and where the real work begins.

But all too often, the team forgets to include a critical stabilisation period after deployment, where an intensive care level of support is required to deal with any unexpected issues that may arise.

During this period, the development team should be on standby, on high alert, ready to swoop in and solve any problems that arise. It’s a bit like sending a spacecraft hurtling towards the stars without a mission control centre on the ground. Without that critical support and guidance, even the most meticulously planned project can crash and burn.

So, while it may not be the most glamorous phase of the project, it is a crucial one that cannot be overlooked if the project is to succeed.

What can we learn from our failures?

Failure is to a large extent unavoidable and inevitable, but planning for it will help to avoid being caught off guard when something unexpected happens. We’ve learnt that one of the most effective ways is to manage failure rather than completely avoid it, and to “fail small” i.e., in small, controlled pieces rather than big unmanageable chunks. In start-up parlance, they call this “failing-forward” as we learn and improve from our mistakes and choose wiser paths forward.

This is why an AGILE approach is so effective. Its specifically designed with flexibility in mind so you keep your hand on the wheel and change direction with every bump and curve in the road.

BUT believe it or not, one of the most prevalent failures in IT is that we build the wrong things. Yes, you read it right “we frequently build the wrong things!”. This is where design-thinking comes to the fore and prevents us from following our own instincts and beliefs too soon. Over confidence and optimism are ingrained human inclinations that have a dark side when planning complex IT projects. The coin we use to pay the price is “humility” but there’s always a much higher cost in real monetary terms that is an even more bitter pill to swallow.

How can you benefit from these lessons?

Some people, like us I guess, unfortunately had to learn things the hard way and pay lots of “school fees” along the way. If you’d like to avoid, making as many mistakes as we did to learn these lessons, and pay less school fees as a result, I’m happy to share a simple, easy and quick-to-use tool that we use every time we start a new project to predict its success and again after we complete a project to evaluate where, how and what we can learn from what we got wrong.

The Project Success Calculator

This calculator will score your projects at any stage of the process, either before you start and even as a retrospective scorecard to identify the areas that require most improvement. You could literally save yourself millions of $ and loads of stress using this simple tool.

The Project Success Calculator

The Project Success Calculator

Please answer each of the following 8 questions by providing a rating between 0 and 10 with 10 being a very strong yes and 0 being a very strong no. 

1. Leadership


2. Preparation


3. Resourcing


4. Collaboration


5. Management


6. Design


7. Delivery


8. Deployment


Where should I send the results?

I would like to send you your results, as well as a spread sheet version of  this calculator. The spread sheet version will be very useful for in house predictions of a project's success

These scores are weighted and used to calculate your likelihood of project success score

Likelihood of project success

Click next if you scored less than 100%

Scroll to Top