The Elephant In Your Project

The Elephant In Your Project


The Elephant in Your Project – Part 1

The high ‘failure’ rates of IT and business projects have been documented for over four decades by numerous studies and publications.  The Standish Group International reported in 2001 that around 23% of projects are failures, and 49% are ‘challenged’.  Doing the math indicates that only around 28% of projects meet their expectations.  A more recent IBM study in 2008, Making Change Work, indicated that on average 41% met all expectations and 59% missed one or more expectations, or failed completely.  Even worst news from IBM was that companies that were ‘novices at projects for change” had only 8% of projects that met all expectations.  Houston we have a problem!

My experience indicates one of the primary reasons, or the Elephant in Your Project, for these continued poor results is the lack of formal project complexity assessment and aggressive risk management – a responsibility of the project sponsor and project manager.  The IBM study, only one of a few, also indicated that the lack of recognizing the project’s complexity was a major factor in a project’s success or failure.  Yet only 18% indicated their efforts fully addressed project complexity and risk.

Every project, IT or business, is a process – a process with varying degrees of complexity.  A process’s complexity: defines, qualitatively and quantitatively, the relative difficulty, time consumption, resource requirements and skill requirements necessary to successfully complete.  The more complex the process or project – the more difficult, time consuming, resources intensive and more experienced skills are required.

Many project managers use complexity and risk synonymously – but they are not.  A project risks:  are qualitative and quantitative issues or events which could lead to negative consequences.  Increased project complexity increases a risk’s possible impact.  Risks can be prevented, repaired if they become an issue or mitigated.  Complexity is not an event and is harder or impossible to prevent, repair or mitigate once the project begins.

So why do most project sponsors and managers do a lousy job of complexity assessment and risk management?  A few reasons are:

Lack of awareness, skills, training and/or experience

Internal politics

Lack of formal assessment/ management process that is consistent and repeatable

Lack of assessment/management reporting and tools


Part 2 will discuss more on assessing complexity and Part 3 will discuss risk management.