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If you want to start an extended session of finger pointing, flame wars, and blame slinging, just bring up the topic of who’s to blame for failed IT projects, or failed code-development projects of any kind.

Programmers at Work

Programmers. Copyright Matthew Burpee, 2006.

A discussion on this subject in the LinkedIn group Chief Information Officer Network has (as I write this) spanned seven months and 941 posts. Take a look and see how much longer and how many more posts it’s been: What are the TOP reasons that explain Failed I.T. Projects?

As you probably predicted, because you know it from bitter experience, IT blames the business side of the house, business blames IT, talent blame their managers, managers blame their talent. Meanwhile, the minimum viable product is never viable, the deadline is slipping even further, the code is buggy and not to spec, and ROI and benefit are dwindling exponentially.

Three top reasons for failed IT projects.

The LinkedIn discussion has attracted opinions from professionals in all divisions of organizations. So far, the top three reasons cited for failed IT projects are:

  1. Insufficient control of the project scope.
  2. Inadequate analysis and specification of system requirements.
  3. Lack of user involvement.

Three ways to help your talent help IT projects succeed.

In my work as a trainer and mediator, I frequently see that those three top reasons for failed IT projects are caused by organizations not equipping their talent with the skill sets they need to keep the project within scope, analyze project requirements thoroughly, and involve the users.

Here are three things organizations can do to help their talent avoid the three top reasons for failed IT projects.

1. Train your talent to think about and strive for value.

Train your talent – your programmers, developers, and other IT people – to think of their work in terms of the value they can provide, to the organization, to the clients, to the customers. The more your talent understand the value of the work they do, the more engaged they will be. Few things cause programmers to lose engagement and work unproductively, more than a project that seems useless to them.

2. Promote your talent towards their strengths.

Promote your tech people, programmers, developers, and IT people to positions they’ll be excellent in. For this segment of your talent, create advancement tracks that don’t involve managing people, but managing projects and initiatives to advance technology innovation. You’ll maintain and grow their engagement by leveraging their strengths.

3. Empower your talent to air the dirty laundry.

Create an organizational culture in which surfacing problems with projects is not met with punishment, but with praise. If your talent fears reprisals for speaking frankly to their management about scope creep, requirements that are found to be unclear, project features not meeting the clients’ needs, lack of support for scalability, or any other problem, you’ll disengage your talent and your organization will suffer.

Give your talent the skill sets to make IT projects succeed.

While you’re working on the problems that lead to insufficient control of project scope, inadequate analysis and specification of system requirements, and lack of user involvement, remember to give your talent the skill sets and the permission to shine. If you train them to think about and strive for value, promote them towards their strengths, and empower them to air the dirty laundry, you’ll strengthen their ability to keep projects within scope, analyze requirements thoroughly, and engage and involve the users.

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