by Sharon Florentine

Why Are So Many IT Projects Failing?

Dec 04, 20134 mins
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A recent study reports that 50 percent of companies had an IT project fail in the last 12 months. Business leaders who blame IT are missing the real project management issues.

Fifty percent of businesses had an IT project fail during the last year, according to a survey by cloud portfolio management provider Innotas. The primary reason, according to 74 percent of respondents, was a lack of resources to meet project demands.

Where have all the project managers gone? Is the IT industry suffering a shortage of employees with these skills?

Not necessarily, says’s president, Shravan Goli. Both supply and demand for project managers has remained consistent, with the number of available positions currently available on staying at about 3,200, he says.

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Growth in project management as a category also remains stable, with a depth and breadth of demand across almost all vertical markets and with positions available in 46 of 50 states across the U.S. Salaries remain well above average — $106,000 per year average compared to an average IT salary of $85,000 for all other tech professionals, Goli says.

Project Managers’ New Role

What has changed is the qualitative side, Goli says, as project managers’ roles shift, they are expected to take on additional responsibilities above and beyond the fundamental scope of managing each IT project.

“The role has evolved over time, and there are a few trends that may be infringing on the project manager’s core job description,” Goli says.

“The fundamental, core job description remains management and monitoring of project scope, communication between groups, motivating teams to drive delivery,” he says. “But the emergence of the Agile development methodology means that project managers must also take on the role of development lead.”

For companies that adopt Agile, many do see an increased need for project managers to drive delivery of an increasing number of software-based technology solutions and applications. But instead of adding staff and resources, firms instead are delegating these roles to their existing project managers, Goli says.

“Project managers aren’t just project-based, they’re supervisors,” says Innotas CEO Kevin Kern. “They are managing solutions and applications, as well as managing the software developers, and there aren’t enough developers, ever. So, project managers are being asked to take on so many responsibilities that their job descriptions get blurred,” Kern says.

IT Is Not the Problem

The shortage of resources could be one reason why many projects fail, says Kern, but there’s also a pervasive mindset that IT is the problem, not the solution.

As organizations move to a more application-centric focus, the number of IT projects increases, and IT departments have trouble saying “no,” Kern says, because of the risk of being seen not as a valuable business partner, but as an expensive cost center.

“We’ve moved away from an era of hardware and operating systems and it’s all about applications. Nobody on the business side cares how solutions are delivered, they care about the value of the application,” Kern says.

This shift puts an increasing burden on IT departments to deliver these valuable applications, even if they’re overworked, understaffed, and have no way to prioritize projects, he says. And because IT is seen by many C-level executives as a cost center instead of a value-add for business, it can be hard to decline projects, he says.

“The shift to an application-centric approach means there’s no shortage of demand for project managers to handle these projects. But what IT might say ‘yes’ to today could be irrelevant in six months, so they need to better prioritize their pipeline. Unfortunately, because there’s always this dark cloud of ‘What value do you have? You’re a cost center,’ they feel they have to agree to everything, even if they can’t possibly get it done,” he says.

This view of IT as a cost center dates back to the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and its aftermath, when previously bloated IT departments saw their budgets slashed and their headcount severely reduced, says Kern.

While the value of IT in delivering solutions and applications to the business has certainly increased, the C-level perception of IT as a cost center has not shifted, Kern says.

“Consolidation and cost-cutting have really taken their toll, and there’s not a lot of incentive for businesses to get beyond cost-cutting. That’s the wrong conversation to have. Relative to the [Innotas] survey, that says we have a bunch of failing projects, but we don’t have the people or resources to manage them properly,” Kern says.

Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.