Dec 20 2011

6 Principles for Avoiding IT Project Failures — Quick Take

Lessen the chances of IT project failure by adopting some of these principles.

When an IT project fails, does it make a sound? No, but it sure can set off waves of discontent, frustration and unproductivity.

Chirag Mehta, a SAP employee and IT expert, knows the damage that IT project failures can inflict, having worked in the field for the past 15 years. Using design thinking as his guide, Mehta outlines 6 principles that he believes can help organizations avoid, or at the very least learn from, failures.

1. Put a multi-disciplinary team in charge

You can’t pin down project failure on one person or one topic and yet we continue to use a person-centric method to manage projects. No one on a project team wants to fail. If you collectively put responsibility of the failure or success on the shoulders of the team and get them trained and motivated to think and behave differently you will mitigate much failure.

2. Prepare for failure in the beginning

I recommend kicking off the project with a “pre-mortem workshop.” Visualize all the things that could go wrong by imagining that the project has failed. This gives the team an opportunity to proactively look at risks and prepare to prevent and mitigate them.

3. Be both vision- and task-driven

Design thinking emphasizes storytelling, shared vision, and empathy towards all stakeholders involved in a project. On many projects, participants focus exclusively on their own individual tasks, thus becoming disconnected from the big picture.

4. Fail and correct then fail again

Design thinking contradicts other methodologies that focus only on success. In design thinking, failing is not necessarily a bad idea at all; however, we fail early and fail often, and then correct the course. In many projects, people chase success without knowing what it looks like or expecting to fail; therefore, they do not learn from the process.

5. Make tangible prototypes

Agile [development] proposed creating unstructured documentation as opposed to making structured requirement documents. But, unfortunately, that is not enough to solve many problems. One of the core characteristics of design thinking is to prototype everything, to make a tangible artifact and learn from it. The explorative process of making prototypes makes people think deeply and ask the right kind of questions.

6. Embrace ambiguity

Ambiguity fosters abductive thinking — a mindset that allows people to explore what is probable with the limited information on their hands without concerns about proving or concluding that it actually works. It helps people define a problem in many different ways, eventually letting them get to the right problem they eventually should focus on.

Read more about Mehta’s ideas on project management and IT failures on his blog, Cloud Computing.

For more great stories from around the web, visit our list of 50 Must-Read IT blogs.