In my years as a consultant I observed that most projects failed to accomplish their business goals. As a CIO one of my most important charges is to keep projects from failing. My observation is that projects fail for two reasons.
Firstly, projects fail because they don’t have any clear business goals. These projects are easy to spot because they typically begin with someone coming to me and asking to buy a computer system. When the computer system is the focus, and not solving a particular business problem, then we are in trouble (see the Barbie Syndrome post).
But even when project goals are clearly defined and success measures are in place projects can fail. This typically happens when the project becomes so burdensome the focus changes to just getting the project done.
In my consulting engagements I remember attending meetings toward the end of a long project where the clients were trying to figure out what went wrong. Their observation was generally that over time they lost sight of the project goals because there was too much work.
I now realize that this is not something that happens gradually. Instead, there is a point in time when an in influential member of the project or senior management will state that it is OK to forget the goals and just get done. It turns out that this happens as fast as a “click.”
Of course the best way to guard against this is to develop plans that accurately estimate the resources and total effort. This is easier said than done. Most organizations are terrible project planners. There is always a push to buy the software and get started.
Today, If someone ever asserts that it is time to let go of the business goals I will say “click” . Most of the people here know what that means. If not, they will by the end of the meeting.
I know Cam Jansen does the “click” thing too, but I think I did it first.