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Permission to Speak – The Leadership Blog for the Tech Industry – Mary K. Pratt Discusses Why IT Projects Still Fail


In this recording, Kelly Vandever interviews Mary K. Pratt.  Mary discusses what she discovered in researching for her CIO article, “Why IT Projects Still Fail.”  The teaser for the article reads, “Despite new methodologies and management techniques meant to head off spectacular failures, critical technical initiatives still fall flat at an alarming rate.”  In an age with Agile and DevOps, Mary shares what she’s learned from technology insiders about why IT projects still fail.

About Mary K. Pratt

Mary K. Pratt is freelance journalist who reports mostly on business and technology management with a focus on how organizations use technology to reach their goals.

Her work appears primarily in TechTarget and CIO.com (as well as others in the IDG publication family), and in the past Mary has contributed regularly to Computerworld and the Boston Business Journal.  Her work has also appeared in MIT Technology Review and the Boston Globe as well as other publications.

Topics Discussed

  • Today’s failures are different than early IT failures
  • Not necessarily catastrophic failures as in the system doesn’t work. More likely they’re rolled out and they don’t accomplish what they were supposed to accomplish or not the full impact of what was expected.
  • Or the software works as designed but the business need has changed and the software doesn’t meet the current needs of the business.
  • There are still places where IT misses the mark, where IT isn’t delivering what the user community really wants
  • Good communications is still a high level need
  • Not all IT organizations understand how the business makes it’s money and how technology needs to support that
  • Business also needs to understand the limits of technology as well
  • Important of business and IT being partners, having good communications, setting expectations
  • Hype around new technologies
  • Another aspect of failure is around IT implementations, shadow IT, outside of the IT organization
  • There is good news around Agile implementations
  • The newer technologies around automation, testing code, are part of the improvements
  • Failing fast, being better tomorrow, and how failure is viewed, which is positive in moving toward innovation
  • Technology like cloud and rapid development lower costs for failure, but it doesn’t take into account opportunity costs
  • There could be a minimum actual cost when fail, but if not about to roll out a feature or a function, you could be losing much, much more in potential revenue
  • Not all IT projects have the same value to the organization and the consequences can vary significantly
  • Setting priorities based on business needs and impact is key
  • Because the cost of failure is coming down, there’s more permission to be innovative and see how it works
  • There was one person in the article who mentioned that while the individual parts developed using new methods like Agile work, the individual parts work well, but what he’s seen is when organizations move to combine the parts, there are problems with the whole
  • He drew the analogy is that it’s like treating the individual symptoms but you’re not treating the underlying causes

Questions answered:

  • What are some of the questions keeping CIOs up at night?
  • If more organizations are using Agile and other new development methods, why are IT projects still failing?
  • Besides budget, timelines, and functionality, what are some of the reasons IT projects fail?
  • Are IT organizations just giving lip service to it being OK to fail?
  • How are today’s IT failures different than technology failures in the past?
  • What’s gotten better with IT projects?
  • How do those in technology keep up with the changing business needs?
  • Is there any good news around Agile projects?
  • What is the good news around Agile projects?
  • How should CIOs set IT priorities?