The reason is not usually because of technology.
The reason is usually connected to the project sociology.
What does this mean? It means people. We are a complex conglomerate of cells and when evaluating the success of IT projects most of us need to stop thinking that we are in the high-tech business and realise that we are actually in the human communication business.
This is what I’m getting out of the first chapter of Peopleware which is about productive projects and teams in the software development industry. The book reminds us that though we develop our products or organise our affairs using technology components, we do so via teams and projects.
The authors studied 500 project histories from real world development efforts and found:
- 15% of all projects were cancelled, postponed or the products were never used
- 25% of projects that lasted 25yrs or more failed to complete.
- For a huge majority there was not a single technological issue to explain the failure.
I haven’t been involved in as many software development projects as these guys, but their findings do not surprise me. In my limited experience, there are usually a variety of non-tech factors, usually relating to communication and information management, that hurt IT projects. E.g:
- Failing to communicate any changes appropriately to the rest of the project team resulting in people not ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’
- Failing to check the documents from which you are working to ensure that you are working to the correct /most recent spec or brief
- Making assumptions about what is needed and not communicating those assumptions resulting in loss of opportunity for those assumptions to be corrected
- Not having decent (or any) systems or processes in place to effectively and efficiently capture incoming information and direct the flow of information within the organisation
There are many others of course. So if we believe that people, and not technology, are responsible for the failure of development projects, what should we do about it? I guess the first thing would be to reflect on our deeply held views on the people we are managing. Later this week I’ll relay what Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister (the book’s authors) suggest.