Every day, in thousands of businesses around the globe, projects of all shapes and sizes are started, completed or even cancelled, by countless executives like you.

Many projects will inevitably end in failure

Of those projects that are actually completed, a disturbing majority of them are deemed to have failed to some degree. And a startling number of those are considered a total failure due to cancellation.

The most infamous example in recent Australian history is probably the doomed AU$6.2m payroll project undertaken by the Queensland government. This ended up costing AU$25.7m, and the overall project cost ballooned into an AU$1.2bn nightmare where 80,000 doctors, nurses and health professionals were overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all. Following the Queensland Health Payroll Commission of Inquiry, the project earned the dubious reputation of being ‘the worst failure in the history of public administration in Australia’.

Why do such a terrifyingly high percentage of these projects fail?

The accepted wisdom is that technology projects are complex, wild and scary beasts. They are difficult to control and impossible to guarantee successful outcomes for. Further: that there is no end in sight to this madness, and nothing we can do about it.

It does not seem to matter how often, or how hard, organisations fail. The lessons learned from earlier mistakes soon seem to fall by the wayside, only to rear their ugly heads again on other projects. History seemingly repeats itself, ‘the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce,’ as Karl Marx famously quipped.

The reasons behind the statistics are seemingly writ large. Technology transformation is extremely difficult, projects run a high risk of not achieving what they set out to do, and there is nothing we can do about it. Digital transformation projects are so hard to get right. Right? WRONG!

Digital transformation projects are actually EASY to get right

How can I say this when experienced project managers, end-user organisations and industry heavyweight consultancies continue to fail to deliver projects so frequently?

How can I make this statement when the evidence clearly points to the opposite?

After more than 60 years’ refinement of the project management disciplines used to deliver technology projects, I would posit this thought. As a profession, we have a sufficient body of knowledge to be able to successfully deliver every single project that we undertake.

Think about that for a moment. What impact would that thought have?

  • How much could your organisation save in non-budgeted costs if every project was delivered to time and budget?
  • How much more satisfied would your employees and customers be if you fulfilled all of the commitments to outcomes that were made in the business case?
  • What positive impact could this have on employee churn and knowledge retention?
  • How much more value could your teams deliver if the budget wasted on overruns could be diverted to new initiatives?

You would become the boardroom hero that you know you can be!

I truly do believe that, contrary to popular belief, digital projects ARE easy to get right. I believe that it is possible to achieve Guaranteed Project OutcomesTM every single time. I have more than 30 years of successful project delivery under my belt to tell me this is true.

Digital transformation projects are also EASY to get wrong

On the face of it, if I say that digital transformation projects are easy to get wrong, then it would seem to make sense that they must be hard to get right. This is where I challenge the accepted wisdom.

Why is it that, even when the right governance is put in place, projects can still spiral so horrifically out of control? It is as though some natural disaster is unfolding before everyone’s eyes, with huge forces driving everything towards a terrible, unavoidable outcome.

However, a project rarely goes horribly wrong as quickly as, say, an avalanche begins. A better analogy would be from the aviation industry, where accidents are not caused by a single failure. Instead, they gradually unfold as the result of a chain of events.

Breaking the chain of events on digital transformation projects

Transformation projects that spiral out of control are simply chains of smaller events that have been allowed to escalate to the point of no return – with no apparent way back.

‘Breaking the chain’ is a concept that can be applied to your transformation project in order to deliver successful outcomes. However, interventions that attempt to break the chain become more difficult and more expensive, the later in the project that they are attempted. They also become less likely to succeed.

Consider how setting up a project for Guaranteed Project OutcomesTM becomes more painful the further into the project journey you are:

  •  When the project is starting up – the emphasis is on READINESS.
  •  When the project is off-track – the focus is on RECOVERY.
  •  When the project is out of control – the priority is RESCUE.

How many problems in the chain of events will you encounter before your project starts to go off-track and needs to be recovered? Or before your project spins out of control and needs rescuing? Worse still, your project could be terminated having failed to deliver against any, or most of its intended outcomes.

Early intervention will save both you and your organisation a whole lot of pain.

Planning projects that deliver Guaranteed Project OutcomesTM

Clearly, the best course of action for your projects is to set them up from the outset to enable your team to deliver successful outcomes.

The real, defining project success factors are far more elusive – and, perhaps, less tangible. They include the almost mystical project elements of leadership, trust,

partnership, purpose, belief, vision, and making the impossible possible.

My book explores these less tangible project elements, and dispels some of the prevailing myths that help to contribute to many project failures.

Dean Carlton is recognised as Australia’s #1 strategic digital advisor for forwardthinking business heroes. For over 30 years, he has been sought after by business leaders on both the client side and the supplier side of digital transformation projects to help them address the many pitfalls on the path to successful implementation.

Dean has a 100% successful track record managing transformation projects to time, budget and quality for companies such as Vertu/Nokia, Post Office Limited, Hasbro UK, PC World, Toyota and Baxter Healthcare. He brings a strong financial and value-based approach that aligns business, technology, people and process solutions.

In his book, Slaying the Digital Beast, Dean confronts 11 common myths about digital transformation projects and shares alternative ways of looking at and dealing with their accepted (but faulty!) wisdom. Through personal insights and case studies, he will show you how to gain control of your multi-faceted projects that impact both the technical and people side of business.

To order a copy of Slaying the Digital Beast, visit www.SlayingTheDigitalBeast.com.au/TBA-PDF

Guaranteed Project OutcomesTM and Readiness Recovery and Rescue FrameworkTM are both trademarks of Global Village Transformations. All rights reserved.