The Business Improvement Network

Why IT change projects should not fail! 

By PJ Stevens


Why IT change projects should not fail! 

I recently saw this piece of information on the web: 

‘Half of IT projects over £15million run 45% over budget, nearly 10% over time and deliver 56% less functionality’, 

We know that IT systems are becoming an ever more important competitive element in (almost) any business in any industry, from finance to design. Many businesses seek to improve or grow their businesses through better use of Technology. But are IT change projects worth the risk, and do they meet the dream?

‘’Technology projects are getting larger, touching more parts of the organisation, and posing a risk to the company if something goes wrong,’’ according to a McKinsey paper. 

And as we see too regularly, things often do go wrong.

Having worked on many change projects over the years, IT often plays a part in the overall change process, if not the focus of the change itself. 

I recently worked for a client on a project change and implementation of a new IT system (approx. £3.5m) which was running behind schedule. The client wanted to understand why it was running late and what needed attention to ‘get it moving’. The process we delivered included interviewing (coaching conversations) a selection of people in the project and wider business, and completing a robust diagnostic. The process gave us a number of reasons and concerns about the poor progress of the project, including:
•    Employees not engaged early enough in the process
•    Lack of clarity around needs and expectations
•    Management’s desire for something new and shiny outweighing practical needs
•    Lack of, or low user engagement (People not feeling understood or involved)
•    Management not communicating appropriately or in a timely manner
•    Lack of belief in the process
•    Lack of belief that the change will be properly monitored and reported openly

It seems that the biggest challenge to delivering this IT change on time and within budget was poor soft skills, such as communication, leadership, engaging people and exploring expectations openly. 

Compare these real concerns against Kotter’s (Harvard) widely accepted, if somewhat general, model to delivering change:
•    Create Sense of Urgency
•    Create Coalition of Advocates
•    Clarify purpose, ambition & strategy
•    Communicate the message
•    Empower broad based action
•    Create short term wins
•    Consolidate gains and produce more change
•    Anchor new approaches in culture.

This demonstrates that even following Kotter’s simple approach – or using it as a check list - will unquestionably save time and money and improve the process. Note that Kotter’s approach benefits from attention before, during and after the change, and it’s the ‘before’ element that in my experience is often undervalued or too lightly skimmed over by clients.  

Given the statistics that 70-80% of change projects – be that IT or otherwise – fail, the sad reality is that your project will likely cost more, take longer, be more disruptive and deliver less than you expected. 

But it does not have to be that way, this number of change projects should not fail.

Some 50-70% of potential that exists in people, in business, remains untapped. Access that, and will significantly tip the balance of success in your favour by harnessing the creativity, knowledge and experience that exists in your business before you start.

Here’s our proven Five Step Process to help you access that potential, identify and reduce risks and hurdles that might slow or derail change, and greatly improve the likelihood of successful change. We call the proven process EXACT, which delivers clarity and control by: 

• Envision the future and identify and codify the organisation’s goals 
• eXtract what the organisation needs to do in order to achieve its goal 
• Direct and focus management’s Attention and understand the roadblocks on the path to the organisation’s goals using the Management Attention Explorer. 
• Cognition: Shaping and support the organisation and leadership 
• Transform the organisation by delivering the necessary organisational change programme requires

If the figure stated earlier ‘half of IT projects over £15million run 45% over budget’ is anything like correct, then investing less than £100k in understanding specifically what potential pitfalls or risks might derail or slow a project, so that you can identify where you need to pay precise attention to move more efficiently and effectively to value, makes great business sense. Even on a £3.5m million project, taking this time up front will return significant value. 

About the author

PJ Stevens is an expert in organisational change, performance and improvement, with 20 years experience. He is chair of the business improvement network.

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