May 15, 2006

Why IT Projects Fail?

The Economic Times Network,
15th May 2006.

Sagarika Gupta, a project manager in a leading IT company, was thrilled when she got a large software project. She had the best people in the team. And she was promised bonuses if the project went well. But unfortunately clients rejected it. Her boss assumed that she had not put best efforts in the project, although she knew she had. It was a failure - and worse, she had no assurance that she would do any better on the next project. If this scenario sounds familiar, you're not alone. Repeated studies have shown that the failure rate for IT projects is more than 50 per cent. This is tolerated only because software is vital to the running of modern organisations. Today three out of four projects are still failing. Why, though, do these failures occur? And why project managers (PM) are held responsible to it? How can corporate India deal with project mismanagement? One would claim that every project that fails is the result of poor management. A poorly funded or ill-conceived project will fail regardless of the skills of the project manager or project team. Projects that lack buy-in from top management are doomed, as are projects that lack ties with company objectives or that have no clear return on investment. Sometimes a shift in business priorities requires that certain projects be abandoned. But project mismanagement plays a significant role in many project failures. Nevertheless, companies typically ensure that their employees have the technical skills they need to work on whatever tasks they are assigned, but as the Standish Group International, Inc.'s survey has reported, "When projects fail, it's rarely technical." Projects, like business, often fail because they are not properly managed. So, even if the project failures are caused by technical problems or business problems, they come down to people problem.

Hiring the Right Project Manager: Are tech companies recruiting the right project managers? Most companies give little thought to project management, let alone the appointment of project managers. The employee appointed to manage a project may be the person who suggested it, a volunteer, an individual perceived as having the time to manage the project or the person with the most in-depth technical knowledge needed for the project. "Managing a project may require technical knowledge, but, like managing a business, it also requires business knowledge," says K Subramanyam, CEO Covansys India. He further adds, "The project manager must be well organized and self-confident, and must have the right attitude. Technical knowledge is important, but so are business acumen, an understanding of the corporate culture and an ability to lead people to do what is expected of them. In other words, knowledge is important, but so is the ability to execute it."

How to be the Perfect Project Manager: Here are some tips for mastering the art of project management:

• Everything can be represented in an ordered list. Most of the work of project management is correctly prioritising things and leading the team in carrying them out.
• The three most basic ordered lists are: project goals (vision), list of features, and list of work items.
• They should always be in sync with each other. Each work item contributes to a feature, and each feature contributes to a goal.
• There is a bright yellow line between priority 1 work and everything else.
• Things happen when you say no. If you can't say no, you effectively have no priorities.
• The PM has to keep the team honest and keep them close to reality.
• Knowing the critical path in engineering and team processes enables efficiency.
• You must be both relentless and savvy to make things happen.

A good project manager's primary role is to ensure that people at all levels within and around the project environment are doing their best to enable the project to be successful. This means the companies should look primarily for a people person as PM who is focused on success. And it is important to choose the right people to manage projects. As much care should be given to the appointment of a project manager for a mission critical project as is given during the hiring process for a key position within the company. And yet, most organizations have no process for choosing project managers. They also have little idea what skills and personality traits are needed by project managers to help them succeed. However everyone can't be a project manager. Certain people have an innate ability to do it well, and others do not. But what is required in PMs is the ability to make things happen. Some people are able to apply their skills and talents in whatever combination necessary to move projects forwarded, and others cannot, even if they have the same or superior individual skills. As to the number of years' experience required depends on the person and the project. Still, it will give an edge if you are a 'certified' project manager. There are no project management associations in India except NICMAR (National Institution of Construction Management & Research) which has a leadership training programme for the construction industry. However, institutes like Project Management Institute (PMI) from US which has centers in India conducts exams to certify junior and senior project managers. Nevertheless, industry experts feel that India doesn't have quality project managers when compared to US. And it requires perfect managers to avoid project mismanagement.