Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Root Cause to IT Project Failure: Poor Management or Weak Governance?

Governance brings outside-in view; while management takes inside-out processes. 

Every successful project has many parents; but the failure seems to be like an orphan, no one like to admit it. In fact, there are many causes to fail an IT project such as Scope Creep, Failure to obtain stakeholder commitment, inability to assemble a high-performance team, and failure to plan or execute well. So to dig through the root causes, more broadly speaking, is IT project failure caused by poor management or ineffective governance?

  • Governance and Management have a different role in the IT project success and failure. The role of governance is to ensure that projects are properly monitored and tracked to ensure cost, quality and time are maintained and a framework to ensure right kind of projects are being pursued and prioritized. Management, on the other hand, should ensure right resources, such as people, technology, skills are provided and operationalizing the product in the organization and measure various metrics for ROI. Management has the core sponsor of the project and not the governance.
  • Governance brings outside-in view; while management takes inside-out processes. Management focuses on a piece with a defined scope to produce defined results. Governance focuses on how the pieces fit together to achieve larger goals. Businesses are like onions, have layers that differ in scale. Corporate, initiative, or program level management imposes governance on individual projects. In another word, Management should be concerned with budget and resource provisioning while Governance should ensure proper execution as per the best practice to use the resources optimally.
  • Governance is a tool of management. A failure to fully integrate governance mechanism into management processes results in the issues not being caught early, and so it is a good candidate for the ultimate cause to failures. Standards, templates, rules, organizational structure, and review structure exist to provide alignment across the pieces and across layers. Not for their own sake. Keeping them separate leads to Architecture (or other) Review Boards that focus on the check offs: are the variable in the right case, does every operation have a purpose, does every attribute of the requirement have a value. Effective governance should be about motivating and enabling people to do the right thing.
  • Governance is about decision rights. Organizations which abrogate their responsibility for the use of IT by leaving decisions about how IT will be used to IT function get themselves into all sorts of trouble. Requirements management is the backbone of the IT value stream and requires excellence within and between every IT function to be effective. In an environment fraught with complexity and immense pressure to deliver, it doesn't take much for this fragile system to break down. Governance should be applied to ensure that common understanding is reached before implementation begins. If not, failure is nearly inevitable.
  • Project management and governance are interdependent disciplines. The management structures and project organization are supposed to separate to the governance of a program. Too often in some organizations, the Project Organization structure and the governance bodies (typically Steering Groups, etc.) shown on the same diagrams and mentioned in the same breath. It is this lack of clarity - for responsibility and decision making - that can derail projects, and these can be both a symptom and cause of confusion between governance and management.
  • Governance is a bit of an umbrella term: But if it includes the engagement and the acceptance of ownership for benefits realization for the project by the line of the business owner, then governance (or lack of it) is THE critical factor for project success. The essence is to have that senior business owner regard the project as the sole or the most important instrument of his/her successful achievement of business targets. And then during the project execution, use the governance framework to deliver what the sponsor needs so that the project does not flip to become the excuse for their non-delivery. 
Therefore, An effective IT or PMO leader has to know how to balance the needs of the project management with the needs of good governance -- to use the right methodology, apply it at the right time and in the amounts that are really needed, in order to improve overall IT project success rate.


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