Development train wrecks can be fixed: Forrester

Researcher says IT must first fix core problems of failing projects

The bad news is that some IT development projects are behind schedule and over budget. The good news, according to a report published Tuesday by Forrester Research, is that it most of these projects can be salvaged.

The report, "Rescuing Train Wrecks: Putting Derailed Software Projects Back on Track," noted that while the number of failed IT development projects can be debated, "there doesn't seem to be any shortage of shops with a train wreck story to tell."

The report is based on interviews with 15 executives from user companies and seven sources from vendors.

The report noted that while there are often multiple problems in faulty projects, most can be fixed by concentrating on the worst flaw. This tactic usually works because the worst problem is usually at the root of the other challenges, Forrester noted.

The report also concluded that stakeholders usually support efforts to resuscitate failing project because once they are abandoned, the business gets no return on the investment. "It is incumbent upon the project rescuer, though, to know the project's business case and ensure the stakeholders see the real value in pushing the project to completion," the report noted.

Most of the executives interviewed by Forrester said they began salvage efforts by calling a halt to the work to alert stakeholders, to buy time for planning and to "paint a target" on the root cause of the problem.

Next, Forrester suggested that companies assign a "fixer" to the core problem and add clarity to any fuzzy requirements. The "fixer" should not be part of the project's initial development group, so that he or she is not burdened by prior decisions, Forrester advised.

Next, companies should break the project into chunks for mid-course corrections, rein in the project scope and look ahead for other potential hurdles, the report advises.

Finally, the report said, IT shops should have the original development team follow the new plan and fix the problem quickly to boost morale and build confidence.

For future projects, the report also recommends that application development groups make more realistic project schedules to boost their credibility. "It seems that projects have to hit bottom before app dev can engage both IT executives and business customers in a productive conversation about what is going wrong and how to fix it," the report said.

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