Sequencing of the human genome is a marvel that has allowed science to understand the processes by which living organisms grow and develop. While mapping the genome has been a great advance in the field of physiology (the study of the healthy body), the greater value of the breakthrough lies in the field of pathology (the study of disease). While earlier advances in medical science explained illnesses caused by viruses, bacteria and environmental pollutants, DNA is the breakthrough that opens the door to understanding some of the most perplexing of illnesses.
Our understanding of the mechanisms that lead to technology project failure is also maturing. While the earliest works on the issue focused on overcoming the complexity of writing large computer programs, much of today’s thinking is based around the use of methodologies or project management techniques as a way to reduce risk and increase value.
While these advances have all contributed knowledge and helped address many of the causes of project failure, failure remains a very real part of today’s world. Reports indicate that delayed, failed and cancelled technology projects cost organizations billions of dollars annually and this year is no exception.
From flipping a few newspapers, I quickly identified more than $8 billion dollars worth of recent project failures. Ranging from the technical flaws that led to a write-off of as much as $5.6B at Her Majesty’s Revenue Collection Agency in the UK to the failure of Waste Management Inc.’s $100M Enterprise Resource Planning project in the USA, the costs can be high.
Much as DNA has helped medical science develop deeper insights, if the technology sector is to continue to improve success rates we need to understand projects at their most fundamental level. Seeing projects in their rawest form requires something of a gestalt shift. We are used to thinking about projects as sets of inter-dependent tasks (as represented by a Gantt chart), but at the most basic level, technology projects are built from thousands, if not millions of individual decisions. Be it developing the project’s vision, planning, designing, coding software, vendor selection, technology choice or even developing test cases, every step along the way requires decisions to be made.
Much like microscopic nucleotides of genetic information make up strands of DNA, the decisions made in a technology project form complex interwoven chains in which each decision becomes the basis (or context) for one or more subsequent decisions. The task centric Gantt chart view of a project is a radical simplification of this far more complex reality. Failure to understand the gap between the simplified view and reality is the breeding ground for project failure.
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.