10 warning signs your IT project is doomed to fail

Around 15% of our new clients come to us because they’ve realised their IT projects have failed. The conversation usually starts like this: “We’re in the middle of an IT project. If it doesn’t work out… and I’m not saying it has… but if it doesn’t work out, what’s involved in you taking over?” To which we’ll ask: “What makes you think it’s failing?”

True, there’s often hope. But, with typical IT projects costing £5,000 to £50,000, and taking 10 days to 6 months to complete the hardest decision for operations managers is often when to cut loose. And who can blame them for indecision? They’ve already sunk money and time into the project. They’re under pressure from the business to deliver. And the mere thought of starting all over again is enough to drive any committed operations manager to persist (or even stick their head into the sand).

So we’ve compiled a list of the 10 most common signs, as told to us by our new clients, that an IT project is doomed to fail. So you’ll know when to get a second opinion from an IT projects company you can trust to keep things quiet… until you decide when to cut loose.

1. Nothing seems to be getting done. Maybe you’ve seen what looks like progress on the project plan. But you don’t seem to be getting any deliverables. IT projects need tangible, regular milestones. That’s so you know everything’s on track and reduce your stress.

2. You can’t get hold of your project manager when you call in. Rather like trying to get an IT support guy to pick up the phone, project managers who are failing to deliver and who lack experience dealing with customers might try to avoid speaking to you. A good sign is when they jump to answer the phone when you call. A warning sign is when they’re mysteriously unavailable.

3. You’re hearing non-specific answers to your questions. Even when you can get through to your IT project manager, their answers to your questions don’t include specifics. We’re talking about vague timescales, not agreeing times to phone you back, and other vague commitments.

4. Extension requests by email. OK, let’s be realistic. Some projects can slip a bit. But wouldn’t you expect a phone call to tell you? And how many extensions do even most complex IT projects need? The warning sign is on the second extension. That’s when to have your confidential chat with a trusted alternative IT projects company.

5. IT systems problems start spreading. Something fishy is going on when your file server crashes whilst your IT project company is working on an Email migration. Half-finished tasks can easily have a knock on affect on integrated or linked systems. And when one problem occurs, another is sure to follow.

6. Project staff don’t feel engaged. It’s a definite warning sign when the people actually working on your IT project don’t really understand what you’re trying to do, or when they seem distracted. Your IT project company could well have its eyes on its next project. Or maybe they’re fighting fires with other projects going on. Or maybe they’re simply sinking under too much work, beyond their capacity.

7. Your IT project manager fidgets. This one might seem unfair. But we often hear about this warning sign from operations managers. “Whenever I urge them to give me dates and times, they start fidgeting.”

8. Significant slippage. Even the first request for an extension, made in person, can be a warning sign when it’s a long extension. At best, it’s a sign the IT project company hasn’t managed their client well enough. (We did that once in our early days and learned our lesson to help clients stay on track.) Worse, though, it could mean their IT project company didn’t know how long the project would take because… well… they haven’t done it very often before!

9. Chasing for a project plan… at the start! Here’s an early warning sign. You’ve agreed the project, You’ve agreed the deal. You’re waiting for the project plan. And you’re waiting. And waiting. And… Enough, already! Warning!

10. No regular project plan updates. This is the dead zone. Clients of IT project companies that don’t give regular updates often feel too embarrassed to ask for an update. Or they don’t want to nag. Or they don’t want to disturb the hard-working project staff. After all, they’ve got a project plan in their hands. Surely “no news is good news”. Not according to people we speak to.

If only I’d done something sooner!

“If only I’d done something sooner.” That’s what most operations managers say when they finally bite the bullet and decide to cut their losses. The thing is, you don’t need to up sticks at the first warning sign and switch IT project company straight away. But, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from our new clients, it’s “be prepared”. Use that first warning sign as a time to scout around for a second opinion from someone you trust.

Then at least you’ve got a back up plan if the worst happens.

Recognise any of these warning signs? Get in touch for a second opinion and a back up plan, just in case. And be a friend to anyone else you know who’s got an IT project on the go by sending them the link to this article.



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