The art of saving a stalled or failed IT project

Ahhh, blue skies and a spring breeze. Faced with an IT project gone wrong, it is often good to stop and smell the blossoms. Changing your mindset may be the first step to a successful outcome.

It is not new that IT projects, not unlike other projects, get off track and stall or fail. It often leads to finger pointing and tensions none of which assists in bringing projects to a successful conclusion. Saving these projects and helping the parties work together to achieve the goals has been an area which I have practiced since I became certified as a mediator in the late 90’s. For the past ten years, I have been asked to help fix the projects by customers,  by implementation partners and by software vendors in situations where things have not lived up to expectations. It is an art where everyone has to be focused on the goal, they have to be honest and they have to agree to work together. Keeping them focused often requires a neutral third party with a dispute resolution background and enough industry knowledge to mediate a successful outcome.

There are multiple aspects to why projects falter and listing them and the strategies to fix them all here would be to write a book. Suffice it to say the majority fall in to six categories which affect the execution of the project and one category which helps the project maintain momentum when things have gone astray.

The execution categories which affect projects status are:

  • Negotiations and change management
  • Product short comings
  • Improper allocation of client side resources
  • Skill shortages for partners
  • Scoping issues and changing needs
  • Honesty and Misrepresentations

People and personalities are influencers on success, however professionalism is always required to see past personal differences and keep the eye on the goal. Taking a confrontational approach to communication styles or personalities is never helpful and will only persist the problems. A mediator should listen and recast salient points in conversations which allow people to focus on the issues.

Maintaining momentum depends on framing the project in terms of an overall strategy for the organization and understanding how the project reinforces the strategic position and competitive advantage of the organization.

The artful aspect is to paint a picture for success and sharing a vision in which the parties are willing to undertake their responsibilities. Some people will ask, can all projects be saved? The answer is yes, if all the conditions exists with the active cooperation of all the parties. However, sometimes when the parities are faced with the responsibilities they choose to abandon the project. So it is key to secure the cooperation of all parties and ensure they have a shared vision of success.

An important aspect of saving an IT deployment is the need for changes in budget based on the current state of the project. This is often a factor is deciding whether the project will go forward. For a mediator, the job is to help the parties secure cooperation and all parties will have to understand that the budget that once applied to the project is no longer reflective of the current circumstances.

Start early in the process of identifying that you might need help keeping your project on track. Mediators can be extremely effective dealing with issues and setting the shared vision before issues affect the overall project. In fact a significant portion of our business is now geared toward Strategy Translation consulting which helps clients focus their IT project and select their vendors with a neutral third party in the mix. This can help CXOs interface with IT and vendors in a manner which drives competitive positions by enhancing the companies core activity systems. When CXOs engage in strategy translation to IT plans and implementation, our clients experience is that the entire execution of projects and results they deliver sets a new standard for overall satisfaction and return on investment.

In conclusion, your project is not the first to face challenges. Reflect on your ability to understand your projects goals and your ability to secure cooperation of your collaborators to work towards a shared vision. Act early to get help of a neutral third party to assist in bringing the parties together. Look for someone with significant industry experience and dispute resolution training that will help you identify and work through the issues. Remember that everyone wants the project to succeed and don’t be afraid to take another look at the budget in order make it successful based on the current circumstances.

Jeff Loucks

Chief Strategic Architect | Winrox | 425-577-7377

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