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Defining Success

How We're Doing

So, now that we have greater insight into what people actually consider to be IT project success criteria, how are we actually doing in practice? On average, respondents indicated that Agile projects had a 71.5 percent success rate, traditional projects 62.8 percent, data warehouse projects 62.6 percent, and offshoring projects 42.7 percent. All of these rates are a far cry from the 34 percent success rate reported by the Chaos Report.

Figure 1 depicts the success rates for commercial/private organizations versus those of government/public agencies. Although commercial organizations fare slightly better than government agencies, the rates are comparable. Granting that success is being defined in the eye of the beholder, the common belief that the public sector isn't as successful at IT as the private sector may be unfounded.

[Click image to view at full size]

Figure 1: Project success rate by project type and organization type.

Some Worrisome Findings

A substantial proportion of the survey respondents, 105 (17.9 percent), indicated that they were project managers. I was surprised to find that they gave significantly different answers to several questions, particularly when it came to issues surrounding schedule, money (resources), and quality. Table 2 compares their responses with those of other constituents including the average. To be fair only 18 business stakeholders responded—statistically, those figures are on shaky ground (so take them with a grain of salt). It appears that project managers are more interested in delivering on time and on budget than delivering when the system is ready. This may be because of the reward structure in place within the IT organization, although if that was the case, I would expect the numbers to be closer aligned with those of IT managers (and with nonmanagement IT staff for that matter). It may also be the result of different values with the project management community, values that are often driven by the Project Management Institute (PMI)'s Book of Knowledge (www.pmi.org). More research into this divide is definitely warranted.

Project Managers ITManagers NonMgmt. IT Business Stakeholders All
Shipping when the system is ready is more important than shipping on schedule 50.3% 63.1% 64.1% 73.3% 61.3%
Providing the bestROI is more important than delivering underbudget 62.4% 76.9% 71.1% 86.7% 79.6%
Delivering high qualityis more important than delivering on time and on budget 78.2% 87.7% 90.4% 86.7% 87.3%

Table 2: Comparing responses of various constituents.

People's attitude towards a healthy workplace is a serious problem. Although 75.8 percent said that having a healthy workplace is more important than delivering on time and on budget, only 53.3 percent of business stakeholders surveyed said so. I'm happy to say that 80 percent of IT managers and 70.3 percent of project managers put the needs of their staff over being on time and budget, but I'm definitely worried about the business attitudes towards IT staff. This may be indicative of the frustration that business stakeholders often have with IT in general as well as a common belief that IT services are becoming a commodity. Until these figures get closer to 100 percent, I think we have a problem.

I have always believed that if a project team gets into trouble it should either be redirected so as to get it out of trouble or the project should be cancelled. I was shocked to discover that on average only 40.9 percent of respondents felt that canceling a troubled project should be considered successful. Worse yet, only 33.3 percent of business stakeholders felt this way, and only 35.7 percent within the public (government) sector. In my opinion, when a questionable project is started, then may you have portfolio management problems. However, if the project was good at the beginning, but then it ran into trouble, then redirecting or canceling it is a reflection of good portfolio management.

When I give public presentations, one of my favorite questions to ask the audience is whether they've been on an IT project which they knew was going to fail right from the very start. So I asked the same question on the survey, and sure enough the majority of people, 68.6 percent, said that this had in fact happened to them. Sadly, 73.3 percent of business stakeholders, 78.2 percent of project managers, and 76.9 percent of IT managers also indicated this. In other words, the people in a position to get the project on the right track, or at least in a position to influence the people who could do so, couldn't do anything about it. Granted, they may not have been in decision-making positions when they ran into such a situation. Then again, they're now in these positions and are aware of the problem, so hopefully we'll see this problem diminish over time.

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