Why Technology Projects Fail

25 Feb, 2009

Knowing that obstacles will arise in the implementation of your project and being prepared to address them can help ensure a successful outcome.

In today's business environment we are bombarded with messages about improvement programs, initiatives, and technology designed to help us become more productive and efficient. As a CAD user and, thus, a member of the so-called high-technology world, you know these messages are even more common. Users across the industry receive marketing pieces every day from CAD vendors touting the benefits of their particular brand. Choosing the right one and attempting to implement it is a major undertaking.

A common aspect of technology projects is they are a combination of software and processes refinement, with a technology implementation at their core. The programs, therefore, rely upon a successful technology implementation to achieve overall success of the project. After all, you can't use the new 3D CAD software until it has been successfully implemented. Unfortunately, many technology implementation projects fail. Industry studies suggest more than 70% of IT projects are abandoned prior to completion. Clearly, this does not bode well for that 3D CAD upgrade project you may have been contemplating.

During 20 years of professional experience, I have observed that successful projects generally share several important characteristics, while the failures also shared common missteps. The goal of this article is to illustrate the missteps and success factors so that others, particularly new project and CAD Managers, might themselves have a roadmap for successful implementation.

Match Your Project to Company Goals
One of the most important factors in the success of any technology project is alignment with the overall business goals, or strategic vision, of the organization. I've worked with many clients who had a stalled implementation of 3D CAD only to find that their true business problem was change management, not design productivity. In those cases the 3D CAD actually made their change management problem worse, because what was really needed was data management.

In addition to alignment with business issues, it is paramount to secure and maintain support for the project from all levels of the enterprise. Without buy-in from those responsible for the corporate goals and strategy, failure is almost certain. Senior executives rarely care about the specifics of technology such as CAD, so any conversations with them should focus on the business issues rather than the technology.

Project Scope
Another critical success factor is project scope and definition. The scope of the project should be documented and defended. Scope creep has a way of undermining support for projects and leading to failure. In practice, revising the scope is often necessary to accommodate new factors and developments that arise during the implementation process. To minimize these course corrections, it is imperative to involve all key stakeholders when developing the initial project scope and to continually update them on all developments. Any tactical changes to the project must be agreed upon, documented, and communicated to all parties.

Lack of communication, particularly in regard to the scope and vision of the project, is a common characteristic of project failure. This is an area that many new CAD Managers find particularly challenging because sometimes there are differing opinions on the direction in which the project should proceed. Anticipate such situations and be prepared to manage them. Remember, your title is CAD Manager; if you were expected to be a passive observer, the title would be CAD Watcher.

Keep the Project On Course
Once a project has been defined and initiated, an organization needs a sustained strategic vision to keep projects from stalling or failing. All stakeholders need to understand that the project, by its very definition, is not a quick fix. There will be almost certainly be surprising breakthroughs and unforeseen setbacks along the project path. For example, while implementing a data management system, you may find that the lack of drafting standards requires each drawing to be corrected before being imported into the new software. This is a significant setback and may cause some stakeholders to question the worthiness of the project. If so, it will be necessary for you, as the project manager, to remind the stakeholders of the strategic value of the project and the necessity of continued progress. A team that lacks the vision to stay focused on the overall goals of the project despite the challenges will likely fail.

Choose the Right Team
Last, enlisting a qualified team to execute a project is essential. The team should be led by a competent project manager (there's that manager word again) and should comprise stakeholders from every level of the organization affected by the project. The team must be a synergistic group with a get-it-done mindset, not just a group of people that represent your corporate structure in miniature.

In conclusion, by identifying and embracing the opportunities presented by a technology project and avoiding the pitfalls listed above, an organization can greatly enhance the opportunity for a successful technology implementation. Those who undertake a technology project must understand that stakeholders from all levels of the organization will need to be involved, and that alignment with the overall vision of the organization is imperative. One must expect to face challenges along the way, and stick with the project to achieve the overall goal.