To Kill or Not To Kill a Project?

In May 2008, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA), a 75,000-member organization based in Rolling Meadows, Ill., that provides certifications, training and professional development to security, audit and governance professionals, published findings from a survey taken during its North American Computer, Audit, Control and Security Conference. The survey, which polled 386 IT security, audit and governance professionals, asked two key questions:

1. Has your organization recently “killed” an IT-related project before it was fully implemented?”

2. If so, what was the primary reason the project didn’t work out?

In answer to the first question, 43 percent of respondents said they had euthanized a project.

“The number of projects killed or stopped is the most significant finding here,” says Mario Damianides, a partner at accounting and audit firm Ernst & Young and a former international president of ISACA and the IT Governance Institute. “Four in 10 had a major project killed or stopped. That sounds like a big wasted effort.”

Hold on a minute. What about the 57 percent of projects that were not ended? Also, are we to interpret projects that were killed as a positive or negative sign of information technology practice?

“It could be seen as a positive,” Damianides acknowledges. “But, if something has been effectively budgeted for in a project, you would have additional built-in funds that you could draw on as needed. What this says to me is that there is an unwillingness to eat into slush funds right now. It’s almost like saying, ‘We’re not going to spend the money on that project.’”

When you drill a little deeper into ISACA’s survey, it appears to support Damianides’ assertions. It’s possible that money is being reassigned from projects—or simply rescinded.

And when you combine the nearly 30 percent who answered the second question by stating that “business needs changed” with the 14 percent who answered that the project was “no longer a priority,” the business air is thick with changing winds at 44 percent.

But what about all that costly work being tomahawked?

“I do believe it is a big wasted effort, but it’s less of a waste than if those doomed projects had proceeded,” says Will Weider, CIO of Ministry Health Care and Affinity Health System, based in Milwaukee. “Many IT organizations understand the value of their IT investments, and they know when the return is no longer worth the cost. That is much better than the state of IT 10 years ago, when nearly everything started was completed because the goal of most IT projects was to finish them.”

One survey statistic seems to support Weider’s contention: Twenty-three percent of projects did not deliver as promised—the second most frequent reason given for killing a project.