Games people play put projects at risk

Lies, deceit and ego serve as the main crusaders and predators of IT projects.

While immature technology, 'project silos' and scope creep are often painted as the villains behind a failed IT project -- the real saboteur of many IT projects is the internal political manoeuvring.

According to Tony Cox, IT projects manager for Melbourne Water, unless high-level organisational support, a strong sponsor and agreement on project benchmarks are in place early on in the process, an IT project is doomed to failure - "always".

Cox said governance of the project is critical and the concept that projects fail due to technology issues is a myth.

"I have not heard of many IT project failures due to the technology. The technology will not fail if the organisation has done enough investigation."

Instead, Cox said, the hindrance of political infighting and backstabbing cause project failures.

"Some of the common political tricks I have heard of include increasing the scope of the project during the project, and [a stakeholder saying he has] a different interpretation of the requirements that were previously arranged and understood.

"[Another trick is] people try to be vague at the beginning of a project so they can have flexibility later on."

IT consultant, Philip Nesci believes power plays and ego underscore many projects that fundamentally should never have got off the ground, as they do not deliver maximum benefit to the organisation.

"[I have heard of examples] of business executives championing and promoting their particular 'pet' project without regard to the overall process for aligning business and IT strategy.

"The typical result here is that projects do not deliver maximum benefit to the organisation, or the project gets cancelled when the executive moves on."

John Roberts, vice president and director, research for Gartner Australasia, said he frequently hears of businesses promising upfront their best people for a project; "but two months on, the best person has been reassigned and there have been a lot of other people changes. The same can happen with vendors when the lead person is no longer available and a less experienced person is installed."

Cox agrees the situation can be "quite critical" if people agree to work on a project, then "suddenly become less then available".

As well as ego and trickery, projects are sometimes based on lies.

According to IT consultant Jonathan Klupp: "Too often the project's scope and budget are based on a proposal in which the client and vendor overstate the benefit (to get the big boss to sign off), the vendor overstates the maturity of the services or product (to win the job), and the client understates the complexity (to hose down concerns about risk and the like)."

But despite all the power plays and political backstabbing, Nesci believes the main cause of projects failing ultimately boils down to project managers trying to keep business executives "happy" - at any cost.

"I have seen business executives pressure project managers to lower cost estimates 'otherwise the project won't go ahead'.

"The key issue here is that project managers should aim to strike a pragmatic balance between keeping senior or powerful executives happy and doing the right thing by the project process or the organisation."

Roberts said while most IT professionals are able to deliver the technical component of an IT project, they need more business skills to negotiate through the other issues.

This is the main reason, as Cox points out, why a strong sponsor needs to be on board from the initial planning meetings with keyholders so a benchmark for the project is created.

"If the sponsor is strong that person can control the politics. Then if games start happening, [the sponsor is able] … to refer [stakeholders] to the benchmark." - Siobhan Chapman contributed to this article.

* How does internal political manoeuvring affect how you do your job? E-mails to

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