When good projects go bad

Conflicted feelings are common when big tech projects go awry. Group hug, anyone?

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There was no joy in IT-ville, not even an "attaboy" for the effort, Hagerup says. Some negative feelings about a poor outcome were probably inevitable, but it would have helped if there had been some empathy for the IT team, he says.

He wishes IT management had sat down with his team and let them talk through their anger at the unreasonable deadline and the lack of support. Even some simple words of appreciation for their efforts would have been a big help, Hagerup says.

As his group eventually proved, the project's scope was too large for its initial deadline. Failing to complete it on time shouldn't have generated such a pervasive sense of disapproval, yet it did.

Hagerup and his team, which numbered about 10 people, went into a techie variation of the classic Kübler-Ross grief cycle -- denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance -- spending several productivity-sapping weeks in the depression phase.

By talking informally at lunch and commiserating over beers on Friday nights, "gradually, we came out of it," Hagerup says. "We circled the wagons a little bit, took strength from each other and reminded ourselves it wasn't our fault."

Over time, Hagerup's team even got the project close to achieving its initial goals, though they never got credit for it, he adds.

He thinks his team would have come out of its funk faster if managers had talked to them about what had happened and how they felt about having their project regarded as a failure. But that reaction "is just not in the playbook of the typical CIO," Hagerup says.

Taking the News Hard

Projects that are killed when business needs change might seem like the easiest for team members to shrug off, since it's no one's fault.

But in fact, "people take it pretty hard" when a project that's going well is killed anyhow, says John F. Fisher, a former CIO who is now chief value officer at NET(net) Inc., a software contracts adviser based in Holland, Mich. "They feel like, 'Could I have done something better? How could we make it work for the business?' Well, you can't. And that frustrates a lot of IT people."

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