Why IT projects fail

8 09 2010

In my previous post I looked at “How do we ensure a BPM project succeeds”, but it got me thinking, why do many IT projects fail? I racked my brains through the very few projects I have been involved with directly that have, not failed as such, but not gone well shall we say. I also started to think back to many projects I was brought in on to help succeed, and tried to remember just why they were failing in the first place.

There are numerous reasons why projects fail, why requirements were missed, why over complex procedures are put in place when not needed etc etc. But what are the real big reasons, what do we have to really understand and monitor closely as to keep an eye on proceedings and limit the chances of failure…

Politics

Ahh internal politics. This is possible the biggest singular reason why projects fail, usually as a direct cause. So what do I mean here…Well, at the early stages of a project, you need to ensure you get the right people with the right knowledge involved, especially if you are identifying requirements. But this is where it all starts. Straight away politics takes over, and putting together a “high level” team, along with “senior users” etc all means politics kicks off. For example how often are you working in a team and realise (as a consultant) that some of the people in that team from the company just shouldn’t be there. Why are they there? In addition, you walk the floor and find key users with a lot of knowledge not involved in decision making? Their absence has meant functions are overlooked, processes missed and for what reason? Often it is internal politics that decides who is in what team…

This isn’t the end though. No, internal politics can also mean you see key personnel dropping out of projects being moved elsewhere in the company. You also find people trying to make a name for themselves using your project as a vehicle, and because of this they slow everything down, re-visit old ground and basically make everything a pain in the neck (being polite).

My favourite experience though is internal IT departments refusing to get involved because they were not consulted with at the beginning of a project. Classic….There are so many many more examples, but let’s just say, if a project is going to fail; internal Politics will have something to do with it…

Before moving on, internal politics can also lead to the wrong system, solution or vendor / consultancy being used. More often than not, internal politics determines just who the business can work with on a project, not even taking into consideration expertise, skills, price and many other common factors.

Nepotism

This follows on from politics to be honest, or could even be seen as a part of internal politics. Unfortunately nepotism can often raise its head on an IT project. In many cases (well all in my experience) this causes friction and can have a real negative impact on a project, contributing to failure ultimately (if it goes that far).

It sounds obvious, but if someone just can’t pull their weight, or doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to be involved in the project (no matter what stage) then that person, no matter who they are, shouldn’t be involved….

Building on this though, it can also lead to particular vendors, or particular firms being used when simply they shouldn’t…

Incompetence

This one is a worry, as how do you identify someone is incompetent before it is too late? Unfortunately I have worked on projects with people who just don’t have a clue. To say they are incompetent maybe an understatement. I, as a co-worker can spot this, but more often than not, manager’s spot incompetence too late. It is therefore important that managers get a feel for their team, get feedback and try to judge if anyone is being “carried” or just plainly is incompetent

Change Management, or resistance to change

This one is deadly; it seems to creep up on IT projects. The 3 reasons before can all be “nipped in the bud” with good management. In addition they show up early in an IT projects lifecycle. However, poor change management or resistance to change from staff can mean that you may have the best solution in the world, but it will ultimately fail because no one wants to change the way they work.

To minimise this, IT project managers need to get not just key staff involved early on, but as many staff members as possible. I am not suggesting they all get to put their 2cents in, but allow them to feel a part of the project, get them involved in reviews, prototypes, demonstrations, the odd focus group etc. This way ensures that when the system comes along, many users have already come to terms with this fact and the solution itself. It minimises the risk of change resistance…

Conclusion

Ultimately managers make or break a project. The reasons shown above can all be avoided with good business management, good people management and a little dash of political prowess.

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Should ROI hold much weight?

9 02 2010

When working as a consultant I often get asked about ROI, and how best to calculate this. Now when working for previous companies, this had to be done (especially when in a pre-sales phase) and I can see clearly why. Like anything in business, if you can show something is worth doing from a money point of view, then it is likely to get done.  

But how much weight does ROI calculations actually hold? I have read a couple of blog posts about this in the past couple of days, some of which see ROI as a complete joke and pull no punches in saying so. Have a quick read of this article submitted by Alan Peiz-Sharpe (@CMSWatch on twitter) http://www.cmswatch.com/Trends/1798-ROI-Joke

Working as an analyst myself, and also as a technical guy, I can see Alan’s point, ROI calculations are very vague and often based on presumptions. But does this mean they are no good at all? I beg to differ.

Business Case                                                                       

Ok, I am not saying use a ROI in the traditional term. I see ROI as an illustrative tool when looking at smaller parts of a business case. So when investing in IT, make sure you draw up a good and detailed business case for the solution you are purchasing (lets use ECM here as this is more of a specialist field of my own). Building a business case is not easy, especially for ECM and don’t think that a couple of hours on line reading up on ECM is going to help you write a good business case. This is an area that I often help businesses with, and it is one where businesses should really look to outside help if they can.

Ok, so you have a good case for your business, one which looks at the business benefits of the system and technology available, one that looks at what is the best fit for your organisations (don’t get hung up on price at this stage).

Where to use ROI type calculations

I never use ROI calculations as an argument for anything, especially for something as large as a complete solution for an organisation. (Many of the problems with these are illustrated in Alan’s post – though typically these are user case presumptions, over optimistic calculations etc). So where do I use these types of ROI illustrations…Well I use them based on “cases”. 

So let’s look at what I mean by a case. Ok, let’s say you have all your content stored in paper, and unfortunately your storage area goes up in a nasty fire. What is the estimated cost to your business of this? Don’t try to actually put a value on this, but imagine if you had a good ECM system you know you don’t have this as a problem for you. So in this case, your real ROI would be whatever you would saved in this scenario, which is more than measurable money….Don’t like that one?

Ok, what about the cost in fines to your organisation if you are found to be “non-compliant” to government legislation – with a particular solution you would be compliant. Is the fine greater than the investment? Yes – so the system is therefore a good ROI in this case scenario.

You can keep on doing this, looking at smaller business scenarios within your business case for a particular IT solution (doesn’t have to be ECM) and carry out ROI type of illustrations. You can of course be tempted to actually place monetary values in your ROI scenario illustrations, but please, if you do this, be very cautious and make sure you get your “variables” as accurate as possible. Let’s look at a quick example…

An example is monitoring how long it takes an individual to locate a paper file. Now obviously this is going to be different each time that person searches for a file – sometimes it will be on their desk, or the desk adjacent to them, it may be filled correctly, or it may be miss-filed or worse still, missing. So, take an average of that person’s time spent looking for files over a couple of days. Then spend the same period of time monitoring a person using an ECM system to locate files. What’s the time saving? I would use Time as my ROI in this case and let others put a price on this. Why? Well though you can put a price on this time saving, does it actually equate to that money saving? You still pay that person the same wage do you not? So the only way to calculate a real saving is looking at efficiency gains in this case, and that can be tricky. Though in theory it is easy, what actually happens when that staff member has more time to do their work? Do they actually work harder and faster? Or do they only marginally increase the amount of work they complete – actually, do they get given anymore work because they are working more efficiently or do they still only receive the same amount of work to do… You can quickly see how ROI as a money calculation can come back to bite you later…

Conclusion…

Basing any investment, especially on IT based on an ROI calculation is asking for trouble. Instead look at a valid business case that may contain scenarios which will illustrate areas where investment return can be measured, not necessarily in hard cash. Within my blog you will find a number of posts on ECM savings, some of which do look at scenarios and cases where monetary values could be added, however, my aim is to make illustrations and put forward a business case, rather than a simply ROI calculation…





Integration is Key (ECM / BPM / Social media)

11 11 2009

For many years I have waved the banner for single application experiences for end users. If you can deliver a single application that allows the end user to carry out all their work, gain access to all the files they require, interact with many other LOB applications (without knowing it), just think what a positive impact that would have on any organisation. Think how better informed that user will be, how much improved their decision making will be, how much customer services will be improved along with customer satisfaction, and also, think how much of a gain that organisation will make in efficiency, productivity and ultimately profitability…

Integration has long been the key to this ideal, and ECM and BPM often show how this can work, integrating with key LOB applications.

Problems…

The problem is that people want everything to integrate without putting any effort in. This means that organisations spend a lot of money in getting applications to integrate with other companies applications and software. While this can be great for the customer (if you have the same selection of applications and software) it isn’t always practicle. Throw into the mix different operating systems, different versions of software and the daddy of all, different business requirements from that integration….All of a sudden you see how muddy the water can get and just how complicated system integrations can be, and why that single application experience is so hard to achieve…

Progress

With the bright invention of XML has come a whole host of ways of integrating applications. It has provided the bridge between old COM and COBRA components, interopability between application components, and most importantly, delivered us XML Web Services and Service Orientated Architectures (SOA).

I love XML Web Services and the capabilities these alone can open up to organisations. If applications deliver good APIs through web services, then integration is made so much easier, be it integration “out of the box” with connectors, or more efficiently through actual developers and professional services.

Is Social Media leading the way here?

Yes…There you go, a nice short answer. Basically Social Media is leveraging web services (especially RESTful services) to allow integration between web sites / applications. Take the recent joining of forces of LinkedIn with Twitter. LinkedIn can now pull in your “tweets” and have these shown as status updates within your LinkedIn profile. Now think back to a business environment and you can see how using one application therefore effects data / content on another application / area of the business. This type of seamless integration is what adds real efficiency gains across an enterprise.

One Degree of Separation

When I founded One Degree Consulting, one of my main aims for the consultancy was to be able to provide consultancy services and solutions that delivered a single degree of separation between the end user, the data / content, and the functions they required to do their job. This may sound a little idealistic, but it can be achieved and should be the goal of business decision makers in all organisations. To be blunt, to achieve this, application integration is key and should be at the forefront of any decision making when it comes to IT based projects and solutions.

If Social Media sites hadn’t have seen how powerful joining forces could be and had maintained a closed API that couldn’t easily be integrated, then the whole point of Social media and sharing may well have been lost….Businesses, take a leaf out of their book, think integration for everything…Its key….





The method before the BPM software…

29 10 2009

Today I was asked to comment on the ebiz forum with regards to a question that was raised, “What comes first: the process improvement methodology or the BPM software”. Now I was a little surprised to read this question as the answer seems so obvious…However, looking at it from a potential customer venturing into the unknown world of BPM I can see, and have seen, why so many may get this questions wrong…

Process is everything

If you are looking at your internal processes, then simply remember that processes are everything. The fact that you are choosing to review your process means you have in-fact started a process, the process of review. Sounds a little weird, but if you think of everything within your organisation as processes or process driven, then you will automatically put into place a process for improving your internal processes.

All too often people look at BPM and its benefits and go straight to a vendor and say “what could you do for us here…” This isn’t a bad question, it’s just that you have jumped the gun, often because of pressures to cut costs and raises efficiency by yesterday.

To put it simply, if you don’t have the process to improve processes, then there is no point in having a platform that is built around process.

Process of starting change

As regular readers of my blog posts will know, I always try to break things down and keep everything as simple as possible. So if you are looking to improve processes and process efficiency within your organisation, a good couple of points below will help you:

  1. Someone within your organisation has to take ownership, and deliver the necessary drive for process change within your organisation. Without such a person, you will always struggle to make change happen
  2. Identify what areas of the business you are looking to improve process efficiency within and to get agreed just what are your current processes (a good consultant will help you with this, and is something that is so often overlooked. In many many cases, the workforce carry out a different process to that understood by management levels)
  3. Get in place a process design / method for identifying process changes, and how to raise these changes from the ground up. (Again, a good consultant will help you with this)
  4. Identify process improvements in full detail, including areas for automation and integration
  5. Look at BPM vendors. Make your decision based on flexibility, potential scalability and integration. Never ever get sold based on a fancy demonstration.

Conclusion…

Identify the requirement of change, and get a process in place of bringing it about. Never let a demonstration or a particular technology drive you into making decisions on process change, or how to bring about change. The final part of the puzzle is the actual tool to use to deliver new processes across your organisation (this is a very important part though, and below I have listed some points to remember when choosing that tool)…

 

Choosing the BPM platform

This is so important, get it right and you will reap the rewards that BPM can offer, get it wrong and you will find yourself increasingly frustrated.

Flexibility of BPM software is key, you need to know that you can change processes efficiently within the software. Obviously don’t expect to be able to just click a couple of icons and hey presto, your process is updated. This may be shown in a demonstration, but in an actual workable system this won’t be practical….Just ask yourself these questions: What happens to the items already in that process? What if that new step requires integration with another system? What if it requires a high level of automation?

Scalability is also an important factor. If you don’t have scope to scale the BPM software then you will struggle to tie together many processes and departments. This puts immediate limits on how effective BPM will be for your organisation. Also remember that scalability can include the number of process maps, but also the numbers of items within each process, or the number of users using the system, even the number of automated steps…

Integration with other systems really delivers great process efficiency. Many demonstration will show how “out of the box” steps and processes can integrate with applications. However, this looks great in a demonstration, but again in the real world, how useful is this level of integration. Often you need very complex integration rules and calculations, triggers etc. This means you need a system that utilises communication tools and provides development capabilities.  If it provides this level of low level communication, then your BPM integration will only be limited by the level of integration your third party applications can provide. As a rule, ensure your BPM software delivers an extensive API (best if XML Web Service Based), and delivers the ability to write and create customer step processors, where developers can build interfaces and between the BPM software, third party software and the user.

Finally, one of the key things is assessing how you will work with the BPM vendor. It is so important to know that you get good quality support services, that the vendor is honest with you and if they don’t quite understand a requirement that they say so. All too often in the bid to win work, software vendors will nod their heads and say “yeap, that’s not a problem, it can do that…” without really understanding the requirement. With any BPM solution, you must have a good relationship between yourself and the vendor, one that is built on honesty, even if that means sometimes a slightly bumpy ride when agreeing on functionality and prices…





True ECM savings…#1

20 05 2009

This is going to be something I will continually look at through my blog posts, so you could say this is post #1 in looking at the true savings ECM solutions can provide organisations.

In this first post, I want to look at what organisations consider to be their costs when:

  1. Filing a document
  2. Locating documents
  3. Waiting for documents due to others using them
  4. Locating misfiled documents
  5. Reproduction of lost documents if possible
  6. Paper Archive / storage
  7. Retention period management

It’s weird, as I have read many blogs recently that do actually place monetary values to these things. I find this great in illustrating a point, however each organisation is different and to get a real feel for what your organisation is spending here, you need to get a consultant in to review these issues.

So, quoting from an AIIM blog http://aiim.typepad.com/aiim_blog/2009/05/management-ecm-excuse-3-weve-got-to-pick-our-battles-.html we see that some typical values have been placed. So, $20 to file a document, $120 to find a misfiled document and $220 to reproduce a document. These are just some figures I have chosen to reference. Now some organisation will look at this and think “hey, that’s not too bad. An ECM solution investment is going to cost us mega bucks so our ROI is going to be over a large period of time….” Well you would be wrong….

First off, just how many times does your organisation have staff file a document in a day? How many times are documents searched for in a day by staff and just how long does that take? How much time is wasted waiting for a document from another staff member? How many times do you have staff looking for misfiled documents? How often do you actually reproduce documents? How much does it cost to store your physical paper? How much do you spend on managing retention periods and looking at compliance issues? Now put a price on these things per day and multiply by the number of working days in the year……hmmm you see these costs aren’t small.

But they aren’t the only costs. There are so many more. For example, just how much are you spending on physical paper? Filing cabinets themselves, stationary etc? There are also the costs that are even harder to measure, and which could be argued are far more important. These are costs or impacts on your actual business. The time it takes you to respond to the market, the time it takes you to deliver for your customers, the time it takes you to execute business processes, the time it takes you to deal with customer complaints or enquiries. All of these have costs associated with them, both in terms of monetary costs right now, and longer implication costs to your company in retaining customers and winning new ones.

All in all, when you start looking at ECM and looking at the costs, make sure you start to investigate in detail just what are your current operating costs. I think you may well be shocked….Of course there are companies out there, consultancies ready and willing to help you with these things, my own company offers such services. I would strongly advise getting all the information to hand before you start looking at ECM solutions, that way you know you can get a good feasibility study together and have an accurate ROI projection…..

Little plug here, if you need some help in looking at your day to day costs and benefits of ECM, why not mail the guys at One Degree… info@onedegree.co.uk