The contemporary business environment is characterized by continuous developments, thus making it extremely significant that organizations engage in the implementation of projects that will enable them to improve their operations (The Standish Group, 1999). Furthermore, this is one of the approaches towards attaining a competitive advantage in the market. However, it is apparent that some of the projects manage to reach completion and attain their objectives, hence considered successful, while others on the contrary fail to attain their objectives ending up being considered failures. For instance, numerous studies and articles have highlighted that there have been project failures within the Information Technology and Information System implementation and only a few manage to succeed. Numerous factors have been highlighted to have contributed to such failures; for instance, poor project planning, lack of defined goals and objectives, unrealistic timescales and lack of involvement.
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However, one thing is clear; most of such factors are linked to human factors. Nevertheless, it is necessary to bear in mind that such factors are not only confined to the human factors, considering the fact that some of the projects have been cancelled due to such factors as cost overruns. In most cases, however, the reasons behind the project failures are obvious. This paper seeks to analyze a case of a failed Information Technology project attributed to poor planning. However, it is worth noting that specific decision of failure is not always very clear. For instance, one project may encounter significant delays and may end up being considered a failure, and on the other hand, another one with similar delays may end up being generating a stunning success. It is therefore crucial to understand the concept of project failure as used in this paper, in order to be able to explore the factors behind the project failures.
Definition of Project Failure
A project is considered to have failed when it has not generated the expected results. In line with this definition therefore, for a project to succeed, it must deliver to quality, cost and on time; and must provide the benefits depicted within the business case (The Standish Group, 1999). Apparently, the requirements for attaining a successful project are clear, but unfortunately, as experts assert, it is not that simple, considering the fact that from the definition above, a successful project has to be attained in line with the expectations. In that case, if a project exceeds its outlined budget, it can still be considered a success.
Similarly, if the project delivered all that had been outlined in the project designs, it can still be rated a failure if it excluded the essential elements required by the key stakeholders. However, this seems to be unfair, but then it is essential to know that project failure or success is not just about the facts or about what has been delivered, but has more to do with how it is perceived. To understand this better, this paper will illustrate an example of a failed Information Technology project.
Reasons as to why Information Technology projects fail
Apparently the project team members, customers, suppliers, along with other key stakeholders can collectively present a source of failure, although the most common causes for the project failures are often entrenched within the project management process, along with the aligning of the organizational cultures with the Information Technology (Fitchet, 2003). Another research conducted by the Coverdale Organization noted that the common causes for the project failures include uncertain project goals and objectives, estimation mistakes and change of project objectives during the project implementation process. However, as highlighted by numerous studies, some of the primary factors giving rise to project failure, particularly those that are related to Information Technology include poor planning approaches, inappropriate skills, lack of proper communication, undefined goals and objectives, unrealistic resources or time estimates and changing the project objectives during project implementation process. However, this paper will basically elaborate on the poor planning approaches. These factors will be explained in the next section.
Lack of the User Involvement
Lack of user involvement sends an indication that no one is committed to the system. As research indicates, the project manager in essence acts as the interface between the company’s technology sides and the business (The Standish Group, 1999). Lack of the executive support from the project managers will make it challenging for the organization to align their projects with the business. It is vital that senior project managers get involved in the project from the initial stage to its completion. However, this demands time and efforts.
Projects at times fail as a result of improper communication. One of the key predictors of a successful project is when communications are made open and honest between the project team and the executive management. However, communication problems are common, particularly for the large and complex Information Technology projects. This is because such projects entail vast amounts of work and analysis and thus making the project teams busy that it becomes so difficult to communicate the project progress, and thus the executive management will fail to note any progress the project has made. Furthermore, in most of the Information Technology related projects, nobody will have an overview of the entire project.
Unrealistic Resource or Time Estimate
Mistakes in resource and time estimate soften result in project failures. One of the most common problems that are often made when creating the work breakdown structure is to assume that the total amount of time that will be taken on each of the tasks equals to the project duration. It is crucial to note that time for the task refers to the time the task will use to complete devoid of the interruptions, while the duration, on the other hand, refers to the time the task will use to complete the task, inclusive of the interruptions. The other common mistake is the application of linear approximation while estimating schedule. For instance, it is apparent that if the number of cows is doubled in a farm, then it is expected that the amount of milk produced will as well double.
However, the scope of Information Technology related projects is far much ahead of such approximations. For example, if a large Information Technology project is intending to use a team comprised of about 100 staff members, basing on linear thinking, it can be concluded that increasing the number of staff by 100 per cent would in turn lead to a decrease in schedule, along with an increase in the cost according to the same degree (The Standish Group, 1999). However, in reality, when it comes to project implementation, doubling the number of staff would in essence generate a non-linear outcome. It is therefore imperative to have realistic estimates of both time and resource, in order to attain a successful project.
Change of Objectives during the Project
Most of the project managers assume that the scope of the Information Technology projects will be ever expanding. This often generates two types of classical problems, as noted in the field of project management, scope creep and feature creep. Scope creep entails the unexpected and the uncontrolled changes in the requirements and user expectations as the project implementation process is on progress, whilst feature creep on the other hand implies uncontrolled accumulation of features into a system, having the basic assumption that the addition of one small feature to the system will put in nothing to either the project costs or schedule. Apparently, the project managers that have no understanding of the project trade-offs will end up arriving at decisions, concerning the project objectives, that are not based on rational insight. Moreover, concentrating on the initial project requirements will lead to a project failure if the requirements change two or more times.
It is worth noting that the initial indicator of a successful project is smart planning. This entails a detailed planning of the project requirements, task timelines, implementation process, along with the fall-back positions among many other aspects. However, it is essential to bear in mind that the initial planning is not always enough, considering the fact that some projects, especially those that are related to Information Technology often take wrong turns, hence necessitating re-planning. Projects that do not take such factors into consideration will always fail. It is also worth noting that the process of project management is not a straight forward process, but rather an iterative process which demands constant agile rethinking since the contemporary environment is full of changes, some of which have to be incorporated into the project’s implementation process.
In addition, it is also necessary to take a careful consideration of the risks that may impact the success of the project. Every project entails some levels of risk which has to be planned. It is crucial to calculate and estimate such risks in order to ensure that in the event such a risk occurs then the project would not be affected adversely. Lack of proper planning would thus result in project failure, considering the fact that a successful project as to be based on an effective planning process.
Unclear Project Goals and Objectives
In most instances, the goals and objectives of the project may be unclear as a result of poor requirement gathering at the project’s definition stage. For instance, considering a case of an organization requiring executing a computerized system aimed at managing the customer relationship, thus enhancing the efficiency and quality of the customer care. In such a case, it is not extreemly clear on the ways in which the intended project will be applied to enhance customer care. Moreover, the definition of customer care will be understood only by the project participants.
Indeed, numerous studies have highlighted that defining the appropriate requirements of the project can actually consume a lot of time, along with lots of communication, although at times the project goals and objectives remain unclear since the sponsors of the project lack the experience that is required for them to be able to describe whatever they actually require from the project (Fitcher, 2003). In addition, the goals can be unclear simply because too many have been highlighted. This can also be due to the inability to generate honest and direct feedback with regard to the project’s progress, in other words, the goals can be unclear when reporting is carried out under subjective terms.
The contemporary world that is characterized by increased global competition, constant changes of technology, along with the rapid increase of knowledge has made it difficult to predict or actually tell whatever type of skilled personnel is required to enable the organization to keep pace with such changes. Apparently, most of the Information Technology related projects demand a diverse variety of skills and experiences. However, most of the project teams lack the depth and breadth required to carry out the project effectively towards attaining a successful project. In addition, it is not always easy for the Information Technology based organizations to identify the experienced people required since there are only a few people within the labour market that have the required skills. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that the larger and more complex the project, the more need is presented for a personnel with excellent oversight, planning, communication and organization skills, and the disappointing news is that most of the people considered to be experienced in Information Technology do not necessarily posses such abilities (Fitcher, 2003). Appropriate skills and experiences are required if success is to be attained.
Impacts of Project Failure
Project failure can generate a lot adverse impacts to the organization. These include time and cost overruns, low public opinion, low job satisfaction, quality degradation, negative media campaigns, stress and frustration that could even lead to employee resignation and a slowdown in the corporate market value among many other factors. However, it is worth noting that the cumulative consequences of project failures can be extremely costly for business and can even lead to closure or even force it to enter into a state of bankruptcy.
Example A Failed IT Project
Apparently, it has been proven that there are nearly limitless Information Technology applications within the service of any organization or business (Friden, 2005). It is certain that Information Technology enhances an organization’s productivity by providing room for streamlining processes, and improves the effectiveness and efficiency of the workers, both as individuals and as a group through the connectivity that it often generates. Furthermore, Information Technology makes it possible for the organization to grow as it enables it to gain access to newer markets, while establishing working relationships with new partners.
However, considering such capabilities, it becomes exceedingly disappointing to see the partial success that has been attained with regard to the application of Information Technology to the real business environments. Indeed, numerous studies have confirmed that most companies around the world have encountered difficulties when it comes to the implementation of the Information Technology projects. According to the Standish Group International (1999) the large projects are more likely to fail as they have a tendency f being more complex, compared to the smaller projects.
One of the recent examples of a failed Information Technology project is the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Virtual Case File project. Indeed the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the project had failed, considering the fact that it failed to meet the bureau’s requirements. According to Friden (2005), approximately 170 million US dollars had been lost, along with the five years of development. The Science Application International had delivered the Virtual Case File, which was aimed at enhancing the management of the file case through incorporating data from the previous system, as well as the Automated Case support system, and in the long run having it replaced (National Research Council, 2004). The Council further highlighted that there was no proof indicating that the contingency plans and the backup had been formalized. The Science Application International highlighted that it managed to deliver the initial phase of the project under the estimated budget and ahead of the schedule, but the software requirements were changed after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that affected the United States adversely (Gross, 2005). It was also found out by the office of the inspector general that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was still, after two years of the project implementation, defining the requirements (Fine, 2002). Gross (2005) also highlighted that the Science Application International Corporation confirmed that communication with the Federal Bureau of Investigation was hard due to the high turn over of the top Information Technology managers. Furthermore, the requirements for the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s mission had not been incorporated into the Virtual Case File design (National Research Council, 2004). Indeed, the example of the Virtual Case File has provided an overview of the challenges encountered in implementing complex Information Technology projects successfully. However, from this case study, it is very clear that the reasons for the project failure include poor communication, unclear project goals and objectives, poor planning and the change of project objectives during the project. However, the paper will mainly focus on the poor planning aspect and consider how it affects the attainment of a successful project.
Role of Poor Planning In the Virtual Case File Project Failure
One study found out that at times the Information Technology managers are not provided with the chance to plan due to time pressure from the organization’s top management take over , while at the same time the project’s goals and objectives have to be defined after the project is implemented (Friden , 2005). In this case, planning is viewed as a waste of time, and have a belief that the best way to spend time is to do something, instead of having it wasted while planning. Nonetheless, most of the large Information Technology projects today are planned, but that is not adequate if a successful project has to be attained.
Most of the projects have had significant milestones, however, the challenge is that work has to progress through each of the milestones, and in some cases the implementation process comes before the finalization of the planning process. One of the key reasons as to why the Virtual Case File software project failed is attributed to poor planning. For instance, Gross (2005) highlighted that very little code had been provided to test. Apparently, a relationship exists between the start and finish of most of the Information Technology related projects. Furthermore, a critical path has to exist since any amount of deviation from schedule along the path would result into the failure of the entire project (Fitchet, 2003).
It is worth considering that, more detailed plans are not useful while managing Information Technology works. However, one challenge encountered in project planning is excluding a precise risk calculation. For instance, in Information Technology related projects, the project managers often fail to consider the degree of risk they are indulging in when making a plan since most of them do not always institute the required processed to inform and calculate the risk. For instance, considering the fact that the new technologies would replace the existing technologies, often imply new and strange risks. Looking at the Virtual Case File project, its main aim was to replace the older systems, and it is worth noting that the plan excluded the availability of such systems (National Research Council, 2004). This is a clear indication that the risk calculations had not been incorporated into the Virtual Case File project plan. However, the bottom line is this: project planning is a key factor to a successful project. It is the initial step that has to be undertaken when setting up any project.
What Project Planning Entails
In essence, project planning entails generating a clear understanding of the project requirements, along with all the elements that are necessary in order to undertake a successful project (Kerzner, 2009). It is always considered being the centrepiece of the project manager’s abilities. Basically, what project planning requires and entails is the definition of the task to be undertaken, along with the resources required, timing and dependencies. This has to be accompanied by estimating and resourcing.
Estimating entails the calculation of the total amount of time that will be required, together with the effort for each type of resource according to the type of task to be completed, while on the other hand resourcing entails the allotment of the actual resources to the proposed plan (Kerzner, 2009). However, the availability of resources always tends to be limited. It is therefore necessary to make necessary adjustments or still move the work between diverse potential resources, in order to make the best out of the available resources. In most cases, such adjustments will have significant impacts on the timing and the duration of the project. This can also have an effect on predicted costs of the project.
There are numerous approaches, which could be adopted in project planning. However, some of the basic factors to consider in deciding the type of approach that could be adopted include whether it should be top down or a bottom up approach, full detailed or summary, automated or manual scheduling, one plan or several sub-plans, milestone focused or activity, process, deliverable, outcome and whether it should be all in one go or exploring details in each stage. It is worth noting that all of the highlighted planning approaches could be effectively implemented to get a successful project (Kerzner, 2009). For instance, the classical approach to project planning is the top-down. This is because this approach offers an early high-level plan, incorporating the initial timings and costs that can be applied in the definition and benefit case of the project. It entails dividing all the requirements of the project into a small number of high-level items, and then expands them into bigger levels of details while the planning process continues on.
On the other hand, the bottom-up approach begins with a full detail of the previous plan and changes the accurate details, dependencies and estimates to be acceptable for the intended project. However, whatever the approach the project team picks on, some of the key steps to be considered are explained below:
Identifying the Project Goals
It is worth noting that a project is considered successful only after the stakeholder’s needs have been attained. Any individual that would be impacted by the project either directly or indirectly is considered as a stakeholder. As the initial step, it is vital to identify the project’s stakeholders, a process that is at times considered challenging, particularly when it comes to the identification of the indirect stakeholders (Kerzner, 2009). After all the stakeholders among other notable groups have been identified, it is crucial that their needs are identified through interviews. These needs have to be prioritized in order to establish a set of goals, which will then be incorporated into the project plan. It is vital to include expectations and needs of the stakeholders within the project plan.
Establishing the Project Deliverables
Basing on the identified project goals, it is essential to come up with a list of the items the project requires to deliver in an attempt to meet its goals. It is also crucial to specify when and how each of the listed items should be delivered. The deliverables should then be added into the project plan.
This entails establishing a list of all the tasks that have to be conducted for each of the identified deliverable (Kerzner, 2009). Some of the key aspects that should be considered include the resources and the effort required to complete all of the identified tasks. However, after establishing the amount of time each task will require, the effort required for each deliverable can then be calculated, along with a precise delivery date. An appropriate template could be chosen from the numerous free templates. It is important to record all of the project deliverables, the tasks to be completed, durations along with the resources, which will be needed to complete the tasks. One of the most common mistakes highlighted during this stage of the project planning process is when the project has adopted a delivery deadline from the project sponsor that is not realistic, considering the calculated estimates.
Supporting the Plans
It is important to note that a number of plans will be established as part of the project planning process, which in essence has to be directly incorporated into the main project plan (Kerzner, 2009). These include:
Human Resource Plan
This plan identifies by name the organizations and individuals that have a leading role in the project (Kerzner, 2009). It is important to include their specific responsibilities and roles with regard to the project. The human resource plan should also detail the number as well as the type of people needed to carry out the project, along with the start dates details, anticipated duration together with the method that will be used for obtaining the outlined resources.
It is also crucial to come up with a plan, which indicates whoever should be kept informed of the project’s progress, along with the approach that will be used to convey the message (Kerzner, 2009). However, the most often applied mode is through the monthly or weekly progress reports. The reports ought to offer information on how the project is performing, the project milestones and the task that has been planned for the subsequent periods.
Risk Management Plan
One of the most valuable sections of project management is risk management. Nearly all projects present some forms of risks (Kerzner, 2009). Despite the fact that this part is often ignored, it is worth noting that the project plan has to consider as many risks as possible in order to ensure the project does not fail in case of an event. Some of the common risks include unpredicted budget cuts, lack of resource commitment, imprecise roles and responsibilities, poor communication among many other factors. However, the type of risks will differ from one project to the other depending on various factors such as the project complexity, scope, requirements and timing (Kerzner, 2009).
Each of the identified risk should be incorporated into the risk log, together with the type of measures that could be undertaken in the event that the identified risk takes place and whatever steps should be adopted to prevent it from taking place. The risk log has to be regularly reviewed, while incorporating newer risks that have taken place in the course of the project’s implementation process. Furthermore, it is worth noting that times are changing impacting the nature and scope of risks, while at the same time generating newer risks. It is therefore crucial that risk management is taken seriously if the project is to succeed, considering the fact that some of these risks contain significant adverse impacts to the project. It is worth noting that, however much these risks are ignored, they will always occur if they were meant to occur; the only solution therefore is to deal with them in an attempt to minimize the negative effects and facilitate the continuity of the project.
Monitoring and Evaluation
After the project has been implemented, its outcomes have to be reviewed as well as analyzed, thus identify whether the project goals have been attained so far or not. It also enables the project team to identify areas that have to be adjusted; especially for the large complex projects to ensure the project goals are attained (Kerzner, 2009). Furthermore, the success of any project will always be measured to a certain extent, considering the actual presentation against the project’s plan. This therefore implies that a working plan has to be in place in order to attain a successful project. Additionally, tracking information and planning has to be updated and documented for future reference, whenever such information is required.
Numerous reports of project failures have been reported, particularly in the field of Information Technology. On the other hand, these failures should not discourage or depress project managers from the future attempts and efforts. In essence, past Information Technology projects provide opportunities to take not of the relevant lessons that could be applied to reorganize areas where the Information Technology projects are more liable to failure. However, as highlighted above, most of the reasons as to why projects fail are related to human factors, which could be easily rectified if a successful project is to be attained.
Therefore, future project managers can prevent or minimize the probability of future project failures by ensuring there is a proper plan before implementing the project, defining the project goals and objectives clearly, ensuring proper communication, basing the changes on the project objectives on the project trade-offs, user involvement, setting up accurate processes to estimate and calculate project risks and avoiding the use of linear approximation to estimate the project time and resources. Furthermore, this paper has highlighted some of the critical steps that should be considered while instituting a plan for the project, considering the fact that proper planning is important for project’s success.