15% Of All Projects Are Declared A Total Success… What About The Remaining 85%?

According to reports, 85% of business and IT executives anticipate that their software projects will fail (Source: Geneca).

Not only that, but one in six IT projects have an average cost overrun of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70% (Source: Harvard Business Review), while more than 50% of project management offices close within three years (Association for Project Management).

If these statistics are to be believed – and they should be – then they make for troubling reading and can have a significant and widespread impact on an organisation – from the financial costs to the negative effects on employees who may have toiled for months on their particular piece of the work.

No method in the madness

Yet more and more research is published on failure and this bothers me. In most industries, including those that focus on medicine, investing, sales, sports… to name only a few, the emphasis is always on studying those that succeed. So what makes them so different?

People travel to sit at the feet and learn from the successful. I’ve done it myself in the project world. I’ve travelled to wherever and whomever to talk to them about what makes them successful. I wanted to ask what they do and how they do it? I wanted to know about pitfalls and warnings, and soak up the grounded confidence of the ones who succeed.

But, in projects, we keep falling for the same old tired research on, and into, failure.

A flawed approach

There are any number of places you can go to get failure information. There are probably more places where a person has locked onto that one reason for failure and turned it into a mission to spread the word about that one thing that will turn failure to success.

The method and the approach are flawed. Just because something is evident or missing when failure occurs does not mean its presence or absence will result in success when applied in reverse.

We’ve seen an increasing focus on governance, espousing of specific methods (Prince2, Agile, Waterfall and, latterly, DevOps and Kanban) and tools such as EVM, J and S curves, and the list goes on. Yet the reported rate of failure increases and few people even notice or question the dogged pursuit of failure in order to determine success.

Focus on success, not failure

There is little empirical data about the causes of success. Many studies have been done on failure and extrapolated to the answer (often with a lot of confirmation bias). Always these studies are done retrospectively – once the project has failed – yet far too little research is ever done on the ones that succeed.

To address this, I am in conversation with one of America’s leading business schools and professors, Louis Martinette, to undertake research on success – by studying a number of projects across a number of industries, methods, cultures and approaches – and reporting without fear of favour on what happens whether the projects succeed or not. We will be following this up with information and research on the journey.