That famous line used by Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie A Few Good Men reminds me of the all too common challenge IT Executives face when sharing the results of a detailed project scoping exercise with their colleagues on the Executive Team.

Project scoping results may not be what you want to hear.

] Project scoping results may not be what you want to hear.

I recall this line—wryly—because it seems to me that some Executives have a tough time accepting the cold hard truth about how long and how much an IT project is really going to take. Even today—with better methods—think Agile, PMBOK, PRINCE2 and years of IT history behind us—an IT Executives pitch for the right amount of resources and time to successfully deliver a project is often met with scepticism. As a result, IT Executives feel subtle and not so subtle pressure to cut, massage and generally perform minor miracles to deliver the same outcomes with fewer resources and reduced timeframes. Moreover, this I believe is one source of the still frequent failure of IT projects to deliver. Anecdotally, my conversations with IT Executives often bear this out. Over a decade ago I was involved in small, medium and large IT projects. I then took a detour into the related field of change management. However I remained an interested observer of the project management field and now, having returned, I had hoped to see improvements in the statistics on successful IT project delivery. Sure, there have been some (for example there are obvious increases in the numbers of professionally qualified PMs running IT projects) but not nearly enough as any cursory glance at project management research attests. Take these 2014 statistics:

  • One in six IT projects has an average cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70%. (Source: Harvard Business Review)
  • Less than a third of all projects were completed on time and on budget over the past year. (Source: Standish Group)
  • 75% of business and IT Executives anticipate their software projects will fail. (Source: Geneca)

The final statistic about low expectations of success is alarming. Combine this with my crude theory that IT projects continue to fail because no-one wants to hear the truth about scope and we have the perfect storm.

I suspect solutions to these vexing issues could come from improved communication, pitching and negotiation skills and good old fashioned frank and fearless conversations about probabilities of success and expectation management from both sides of the Executive table. I also have a hunch that the field of IT Project Management could still learn from other disciplines (such as construction/engineering) about approaches. This has been talked about for decades, but there was always an under-current to the conversation that went something like this…..’Yes, I am sure we could learn from other disciplines but IT projects are a different beast i.e. we are a bit special’. Does this sound familiar? If so…is it time we addressed this old chestnut? I look forward to having productive conversations with you on this topic and exploring my hunches further – am happy to be disproved! Feel free to strike up an online conversation with me.

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