The Project-Killing Beast on the Three-Legged Stool

By Bruce F. Webster Print this article Print

Any one of three groups can kill your technology project before it gets started or make it fail after the fact: executives, management information systems and end users.

Within a given organization—corporate or governmental—three separate groups exist that can determine the success or failure of your IT project. This is true whether you’re a senior IT project manager within that organization, a consulting firm developing or re-engineering a system for that organization or an external vendor trying to sell an existing IT product into that organization.

Those three groups include: the executive(s) who authorizes funds for the new system; the MIS group that will maintain and support the system once it’s in production; and the end users who will actually work with the new system. Make no mistake—any one of those groups can kill your project before it even gets started or turn it into a failure after the fact.

For obvious reasons, we tend to focus on the first group, those who control the purse strings. Without money, the project can’t start or continue, invoices don’t get paid and licensing agreements don’t get signed. But in exchange for that money, this group expects any or all of the following results from the new system:

      <li">1. If the new system is replacing an existing system, then the new system carries out all the critical functions of the old system, has a longer lifetime, and shows improvements in functionality, reliability and performance. <li">

2. The new system offers new functionality that allows the organization to continue to compete with—or better yet, surpass—its competitors. <li">

3. The new system offers savings to the organization such as reduced support costs, increased efficiencies, reduced head count and increased productivity. <li">

4. The new system causes the executive(s) sponsoring it to increase in prestige, rank, authority and salary within the organization.

Needless to say, you must aggressively and repeatedly manage those expectations, preferably in writing. There’s not much you can do for the fourth set of expectations, but you certainly need to be aware of them.

This article was originally published on 2008-06-26
Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.
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