This website covers topics on knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

How many of your IT projects fail? Too many

People who follow IT project management have probably seen the Standish Group 2006 survey report (CHAOS) that suggested 67% project failure rate in IT projects.  The Impact of Size and Volatility on IT Project Performance (overview only, full text is members only) by Chris Sauer, Andrew Gemino and Blaize Horner Reich in the November 2007 Communications of the ACM suggests just the opposite: 67% project success rate.

So, which is it?  Does it matter?  A one in three failure rate is still too high.

Here are some of the highlights from this Communications of the ACM article:

  • Any more than one change in project management leadership or sponsorship leads to a greater than 50% risk of under-performance.
  • Risk of under-performance is closely correlated to effort (person-months).
  • Risk of under-performance isn't correlated to project budget, and there is minimal correlation to duration.  Team size was only important for very large teams (in this study 20 FTE's is large).
  • Regressing the volatility data with the size data, they shows a correlation between changes in project manager and schedule (longer), budget (higher), and scope (less).
  • Of the studied projects, they found that 25% of project fail along many different axes.
  • Survey respondents were fairly experienced: 9 years as a project manager.

In short, the survey suggests the most important thing to do is keep the (experienced) project manager on the project to the end.  The other suggestions have to do with keeping the size in the acceptable-risk range.

Note: I haven't taken the time to dive into the details of the CHAOS Report to speak to the differences.  I would love to see someone compare this survey of 412 IT projects to the studies of thousands of projects that Standish has been doing in order to see where the differences lie.  InfoQ has an interview with Jim Johnson of Standish Group, talking about their latest report and the work in general.  InfoQ also has a discussion about Standish CHAOS Report Methods Question which talks about some of the concerns over the Standish report voiced by Robert L. Glass in a recent CACM article.

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