10 Reasons Why Strategic IT Management Initiatives Fail

While the current global economy is in a state of confusion and recession, the need to take bold moves in managing IT and improving IT processes is more relevant than ever. “Business as usual” and simply cutting back across the board in high technology investments can often lead to competitive disadvantages and actually create costs; especially if initiatives to improve process efficiencies get stymied, or frozen at awkward half-way points.

On the other hand, it’s clearly counter-intuitive to make investments when anxiety and uncertainty argue otherwise. This is all the more true, since so many strategic initiatives end in disappointment. In this column I lay out some fundamental issues that touch most strategic initiatives—not with an eye to discouraging you but, in fact, with the hope that by singling out these common issues, you will be more prepared to move forward.

According to feedback gleaned through EMA’s IT consulting, 75% of strategic IT management initiatives fail (failure is defined as not meeting initial expectations in terms of time or budget to deliver expected value). Yet years of IT consulting have revealed that strategic IT initiatives share many of the same pain points. The dominant problems are so consistent, in fact, that they offer CIOs a useful checklist of “What to Avoid,” or, conversely, what to do proactively to help promote success. So, without further ado …

The Top Ten List

Insufficiently detailed requirements — This may be pretty self evident, but the rush to get started on a tactical basis often overpowers better intentions. Take a little more time and make adequate, detailed plans. Sometimes you, as executives, can be part of the problem if there is a rush in terms of time to value that turns out to be inappropriate, or worse naïve. I am going to mention another corollary to this, which is the need to have a good core strategic team to begin with that includes the right mix of skill groups. For most strategic initiatives, this means a combination of skills ranging from process expertise, communications expertise, and a commitment to iterative dialog, a mix of appropriate architectural skills, and someone tuned to the details of the core technologies/products at hand.

Insufficient attention to process — While almost everyone recognizes the need to pay attention to best practices, such as ITIL, in a very large number of strategic initiatives, process education is dealt with in an ad-hoc manner; often after the initial planning is done. On the other hand, problems can arise when a religious approach is taken and ITIL, for instance, is treated as more gospel than departure point. The right approach combines proactive education with a realistic willingness to assimilate existing processes. This includes learning and documenting “best practices” from the various groups within your organization.

Executive support — Just in case you didn’t realize it, you’re all important in the success of strategic initiatives. The lack of firm commitment from executives can seriously disrupt strategic initiatives. This is especially true when one executive leaves and a new one comes on board. Our rule of thumb is that you, as executives, will need to see documented results no less frequently than every six-month. This can put constraints on project planning, but it can and should be achievable with the right detailed approach.

Inadequate or waffling budgets — This is probably not a popular thing to mention in the Winter of 2008/09, but inadequate or waffling budgets can produce rather than cure inefficiencies and ultimately create unnecessary costs as project objectives aren’t met, or projects are redirected. Some strategic initiatives are primarily enabling and, as such, should move to a core budget model versus a project model as soon as possible.

Staff buy-in — Getting the staff on board isn’t all your job as the executive. It should really fall to your core team. But you need to be there to support the effort and make clear that it’s your priority, as well. You also need to invest sufficiently in a core team that understands the need and has your perspective on the initiative. Ultimately, the goal is to enlist the staff as active and enthusiastic participants versus just consumers. To do this, talk to them regularly and make sure they feel like you’ve heard and understand their concerns.