Four types of IT project failure

There's a new book to add to my collection of books on IT failure: "Why New Systems Fail," by independent software consultant Phil Simon. The book takes an in-the-trenches approach to identifying ways that "theory and practice collide" when it comes to developing new IT systems (or upgrading old ones).

Simon notes that not all failures are the same, and there are certainly degrees of failure. He asserts there are four types of IT project failure (paraphrased here by me):

The unmitigated disaster: The most egregious failure, in which millions of dollars are spent on a system that is ultimately junked. Relationships between consultants and clients are severed. Lawsuits may ensue.

The big failure: The organization budgets $2M and one year for a project, but really spends $4M and three years, getting much less functionality than expected.

The mild failure: (I wonder how close this is to, um, "normal.") Instead of $2M and 12 months, the project comes in at $2.2M in 15 months, with less functionality than promised.

The forthcoming failure: This is a case where it may not seem like a failure in terms of budget and deadline, but it's a failure waiting to happen because of bad assumptions, bad data, lack of documentation and/or poor training. Maybe the system has a key flaw that will come back to haunt the organization down the road. Or documentation is deficient and key staffers leave, leaving no one who knows how to use the thing. Or end-users don't understand the system so they make significant errors or revert to their "old ways," negating the benefits of the system.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

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Other IT disaster books on my shelf:

  • Catastrophe Disentanglement: Getting Software Projects Back on Track, by E. M. Bennatan
  • Successful IT Project Delivery: Learning the Lessons of Project Failure, by David Yardley
  • Software Project Survival Guide, by Steve McConnell
  • Software Development Failures, by Kweki Ewusi-Mensah

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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