5 common reasons why IT projects fail (And how to avoid them)

You’re preparing to start a new IT project. While you’re excited about the positive changes and ROI the project will deliver, you’re also concerned. What if it’s delayed, the budget explodes, or it becomes a fiasco? The truth is, IT project failure is a real, serious risk. In fact, according to a Project Management Institute (PMI) report, the percentage of IT projects that fail is 14%. If that doesn’t sound too bad, the same PMI report also notes that 43% of projects go over budget, 49% are completed late, and 31% fail to meet their goals. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to guess what kind of unexpected pitfalls lie ahead. In our experience managing countless IT projects, we’ve identified some common reasons why IT projects fail. The good news is, they can be bypassed with a little planning. Here are five to be aware of and how to avoid them. 


Pitfall #1: Undefined scope blows the budget out of control

Which parties and team members will be involved in your project? What are the deadlines and deliverables? How much ROI will the project return? All these questions should have clear answers that are defined before you start. In other words, you need to know where you’re going before you get there. Failure to do so is a recipe for scope creep: overblown budgets and a project that doesn’t deliver.


We recommend flat fee projects, instead of paying hourly. This forces all parties to clearly think through the planning. Also, consider the big picture as you scope the project, including technical delivery and how the completed project will affect end users and your systems. How will the changes integrate with your existing systems? How will they affect end users’ daily tasks? These are important questions that should be answered ahead of time because they’ll help keep your team in a proactive, rather than reactive, state once the project is underway. 


Pitfall #2: Mixing IT support and project teams

While it’s not uncommon for the IT support team to lend a hand with projects, don’t allow it. Why? Human nature: Project teams are proactive and planned while support teams are reactive and used to taking immediate action. If a server fails, your support team must drop what they’re doing and attend to it quickly. It’s their job. And if they have project responsibilities, breaking away to put out IT fires will cause delays.


The solution to this problem is simple. Create a dedicated team for your project and keep it separate from your support team, no matter how tempting it may be to combine them. If you still feel shorthanded, consider hiring IT contractors or a managed service provider to help with the project. 


Pitfall #3: No leadership team

IT projects typically have many parties involved. There is the IT team, vendors, the client’s team, stakeholders, and more. A common reason why many IT projects fail is a lack of oversight for all the moving parts. With no one steering the ship, there’s no clear direction on daily and weekly tasks, no one to answer questions, and no one to be accountable for the project deliverables. In other words, project failure is much more likely. 


Designate an IT project manager who has the time and skills to lead the project. They should be responsible for incorporating all parties into the planning, defining their roles, setting and monitoring milestones, and keeping everyone on task once the project begins. In general, this project manager will oversee the project with the goal of achieving its ROI targets.


Pitfall #4: Change management during the project

IT projects can take months or even years to complete. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for a change in management to happen during the project. When this occurs, it can be quite disruptive, especially if it affects the project leadership team, which can impact the quality, cost, and duration of the project. What can you do to prevent this? 


As management changes are common, the key is to expect one. Before your project kicks off, prepare a review and approval process for a management change. Define roles and how any changes will be incorporated into the project. Usually the people are someone on the client side, on the IT service side, and on the project delivery side. By laying out this plan in advance, everyone (including vendors, the internal IT team, and third parties) will know how to react if and when a management change occurs.  


Pitfall #5: Inconsistent and poor communication

Projects involve many people, so effective communication is critical to keep everyone coordinated. Without it, miscommunication can slow down the project or derail it altogether.


Establish a communication channel and ensure everyone knows what’s expected of them in the coming weeks. At the outset, check if there are any coordination errors or general problems that need to be addressed. Also, think about communication as a process. PMI suggests the 5Ws and 1H of communication: Who, What, Why, When, Where, and How. In other words, who needs to communicate what information at what time and where, for what reason, and how. 


The easy way to avoid IT project failure

When you’re new to managing IT projects, the fear of failure can be scary, especially when you know the kinds of statistics mentioned at the beginning of this article. But as you now see, many of these pitfalls are common and can be avoided with smart planning. 

If you’re looking for an easy way to prevent failure, why not trust an expert? Leverage IT has decades of experience navigating IT projects and we’ve learned countless lessons along the way. Leverage our knowledge to ensure the success of your next project. Contact us today.

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