Learning from project success and failure

I am delighted to be able to start a blog on ComputerworldUK on what can be learned from projects and programmes, successful or not. Learning from mistakes happens less often than it should. When I have given talks on the common causes of...

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I am delighted to be able to start a blog on ComputerworldUK on what can be learned from projects and programmes, successful or not.

Learning from mistakes happens less often than it should.

When I have given talks on the common causes of IT-related failures, people have said afterwards: “What you’ve said doesn’t just apply to IT projects.”

That’s a theme I’ll be revisiting. IT-related projects and programmes often fail for the reasons bridges collapse and aircraft crash: within an organisation deviance from good management and practices sometimes becomes normal and acceptable.

Before the credit crunch people were able to get mortgages when lenders knew they couldn’t make the repayments. Bad practice had become the norm. When the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded it was realised much later that NASA had put political expedience before safety. Bad practices became so routine they fit snugly into NASA’s culture.

When big UK government IT-related projects fail people ask: how could such basic mistakes have been made? In some cases it is because of what in the US is called - and I apologise for repeating such a grotesque phrase - the “normalization of deviance".

This phrase helps to explain why some business cases in central government are not written until the project is due for completion - and are recreated when the scheme misses an important milestone.

In the private sector, the paperwork in legal disputes shows that, on the whole, projects fail for more conventional reasons.

I’ll also look at the reasons for successful projects and programmes - in the private and public sectors - and how the pitfalls were avoided. With budgets tighter than ever, can a small amount of money bring disproportionately large savings when working practices are simplified and standardized? I’ll be looking for examples.

I welcome ideas and tip-offs. Please email me on [email protected]. I also welcome comments on blog posts, constructive or not.

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