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Bottom Fed Failures – Ailment #4 Leading to Project Failure (#6 in the series Decoding the DNA of Failed Technology Projects)
By Robert Goatham

The $5.6 billion dollar fiasco at Her Majesty’s Revenue Collection Agency (HMRC) in the UK is a good example of a bottom fed failure. Bottom fed failures occur when substandard work at the implementation level results in quality problems. In software systems those quality problems are generally in the form of software bugs, but for other types of project they may take other forms.

In the HMRC case new child tax credits offered by the UK government required tax refunds to be sent to thousands of families. Bugs in the software used to make payments caused a number of problems;

  1. Miscalculation of the sums to be refunded
  2. Changing screens while entering data resulted in vital information being lost
  3. The database ended up with “rogue” files that could not be deleted

The resulting errors meant that many families received considerably more money than they should.

Unfortunately once the British Government realised the errors had been made, many families had already spent the money. Efforts to reclaim the money resulted in financial hardship for many of the UK’s poorest families and in the end the British government was forced to accept massive write offs.

While top led failures, focal imbalance, disconnect failures and bottom fed failures are a few examples, many other such afflictions exist. Projects in poor health often suffer from more than one ailment and the worst run projects are riddled with such problems. Underlying these problems is usually a lack of understanding for the process of making decisions and a lack of understanding of how to recognise when decision making is going off the rails. Those failures are in turn often contributed to by the way we see the Project Management role.

Robert Goatham is the principal of Calleam Consulting. Robert founded Calleam in response to the on-going challenges organizations face in developing the leadership skills necessary to successfully deliver today’s complex technology projects. Specializing in the study of failed projects, Robert translates hindsight from yesterday’s projects into the foresight needed to ensure tomorrow’s success. Robert has more than 20 years experience in the technology sector playing roles that include developer, technical lead, architect, quality manager, coach and senior project manager. As a public speaker, writer and trainer Robert provides audiences with insights that go beyond the theory of a text book and speak directly to the challenges people face in today’s workplace. Robert is passionate about helping organizations and individuals develop their skills. Visit www.calleam.com for more information.

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