Why CIOs fail – A short primer on success

Enterprise software vendors pitch their solutions at multiple levels in the organization, including C-level executives, line of business users, wizard-like technical experts, and a host of other stakeholders and interested parties. Each of these audiences has a different set of goals, measures success in unique ways, and defines its own view of business value.

This reality of stakeholder differences explains why many IT projects have trouble — creating a unified set of requirements from these divergent, and often conflicting, constituencies is difficult at best. It also explains why enterprise software marketing and procurement are so convoluted.

Complex relationships among different parts of an organization are not a technology issue, but form the backdrop against which all business is conducted. However, this does create a problem for CIOs who are comfortable with the technical aspects of an enterprise deployment but do not fully understand the dynamics of how stakeholders across an organization work together.

While tempting to focus on technology as the cause of most IT failures, experience tells us otherwise. For example, ComputerWeekly quotes James Martin, former IT COO in Europe at Lehman Brothers:

In my experience the key reasons for IT project failure have been consistent across firms and around the world. My top 5 pitfalls are: Lack of robust business requirements at the outset, leading to unrealistic IT project budgets and timescales; business sponsorship and participation start off strong and then tail off, leaving the IT project drifting; red herring stakeholders’ frustrating a project by raising numerous side issues and minor concerns; the world outside moving on, forces a project to be re-defined during its course so it never really ends, it just runs out of steam; and the administrative burden imposed on the IT team eats more resource than technical development work.

Cultivating communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing among stakeholders is a fundamental challenge on most large IT projects. For that reason, I invited collaboration expert, Dr. Graham Hill, to write a series of guest posts.

Also read:
CIO view: Ten principles for effective collaboration
Seven steps to successful organizational collaboration

Graham offers this advice for CIOs who want to achieve success by improving business communication and alignment across their diverse constituency:

1. Identify everyone who has a direct hand in influencing the project’s success, including key people from lines of business, functional experts, and change managers. The project cannot succeed without their active involvement.

2. Involve the right people at the right time to avoid creating the chaos that results from involving everyone all the time. Pull in only those people with the right knowledge, skills and experience needed to move the project forward at any given time. Although this will require some to be involved continuously, for many it will only require a single meeting.

3. Be sure stakeholders and project participants have all the information they need. Give everyone involved the information they need, guidelines for what you expect, and the opportunity to ask questions. Collaboration technology can help but is not always necessary.

CIO guidance. Although the best CIOs recognize their role as business leader, the image of CIO as chief technician unfortunately still prevails. To achieve success, CIOs must forge ties and links across the business and engage stakeholders meaningfully.

I cannot overstate the importance of this message and will write more about it in the future.

(Cross-posted @ IT Project Failures Blog RSS | ZDNet)

Well-known expert on why IT projects fail, CEO of Asuret, a Brookline, MA consultancy that uses specialized tools to measure and detect potential vulnerabilities in projects, programs, and initiatives. Also a popular and prolific blogger, writing the IT Project Failures blog for ZDNet. Frequently quoted by the press on topics related to IT management.
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