09/10/2010 11:26 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Why do so many I.T projects fail?

According to an often-quoted study from the Gartner Group, 75% of I.T. projects fail. The Standish Group conducts an annual survey of I.T. projects. Their latest report shows a decrease in project success rates.

  • 32% of all projects succeeded: delivered on time, on budget, with required features.
  • 44% were challenged: late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features.
  • 24% failed: cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.

These failure rates have remained unchanged for over 20 years.

Many authors have attributed this to "bad management". The implication is that if managers were better trained, these projects would all become successes.

This is simply not true. Introducing a new I.T. system into an existing work environment is fraught with tension. I.T. systems change how people interact with each other. More importantly, they change power relationships. With a given system, certain individuals/groups hold key power positions, but change the system and the power flows in unpredictable directions. Moreover, I.T. systems shift job security. The unstated goal of many systems is to reduce headcount.

Nevertheless, I.T. systems are only successful when people "buy-in". Without wide user support, systems often fail. The success of an I.T. systems depends on every person involved adhering to the strict operating assumptions that each system requires.

Given this tension, it's not surprising that so many systems fail.

These themes are discusses in more depth in Jonathan Ezer's new book: Office Politics and I.T. Failure