Stories are legion of IT projects gone wrong. According to Standish Chaos Reports, a majority of projects fail, fail to deliver as promised, run way over budget, deliver something that isn't wanted or doesn't get used, or are outright abandoned and never finished. In other words, they waste time and squander money, never mind the lost opportunity costs.

Talk About Impotence

If these were bridge construction projects instead of software development projects, more than two-thirds of all bridges would either lead us to places we didn't want to go or fail as we were driving over them. And as if that weren't bad enough, others would simply end in midair, though in many cases (we hope) the entrances would be blocked off.

A McKinsey study released last year says that 17 percent of large IT projects go so badly that they can threaten the very existence of the company

“It is quite scary,” said Ralf Dreischmeier, the global head of Boston Consulting Group’s IT practice in an interview with the Financial Times.

It doesn't have to be like this, at least not as often. With the advent of the cloud, agile methodologies and a new set of best practices, the days of (mostly) failing IT projects can be left behind.

Building solutions within the enterprise can become sexy again.

New Ways for a New Day

At Amazon Web Services re:Invent conference last month, Werner Vogels, the company’s chief technology officer, spoke about how his company delivers features and services. While he by no means suggested that other companies "act like Amazon," we think that, put in proper context, it’s something that enterprises should consider. After all, if these tactics work well for the world’s largest online retailer, why couldn’t they work elsewhere? Especially when the cloud gives us access to many of the same resources.

Here are some of the ideas that Vogels shared and why we think they might be relevant to you:

1. Work fast

“This whole rapid delivery stuff is truly our DNA," said Vogels. Now while we don’t expect that most companies will deliver at Amazon’s rate (they delivered 243 features between January 1 and November 14), providing services/solutions the moment the business needs them is a must. We’ve all heard it said that in the future every company will be a software company; we say that that time is now.

2. Focus on building for the now versus spending time developing a strategy and vision

This will no doubt be heresy to old school IT. Amazon has a methodology around this; it’s called “Working From The Customer Backwards.”

3. The “Working From The Customer Backwards” method consists of the following steps:

  • Write a press release that states, in very simple terms, exactly what the “product” will deliver (this is an internal project-based document).
  • Create a list of 10-15 FAQ’s that a customer might ask about a product.
  • Start to define the user interactions with the product/service
  • Start building some of the framework for the user manual.

All of this is done before a single line of code is written, said Vogels.

4. Build small “two pizza” teams

Meaning that two pizzas should be enough to feed the entire project team dinner. The reason for this, according to Vogels, is that it prevents the need to hold meetings to find out what others on the team are doing and that it builds in continuous communication.

5. Teams should be autonomous, have their own leadership and work at their own pace

They should completely own their own roadmap.

6. Solutions should be developed in concert with customers

They shouldn't be developed according to what other project teams are doing.

7. Teams should get the functionality into users’ hands as quickly as possible.

It’s more important to do this than to launch broadly.

8. Iterate based on customer feedback

This way improvements can be added right away and solutions can improve in short order.

9. Don’t be afraid to keep the scope small

“Things that look small can affect users in very big ways,” said Vogels. Something as simple as allowing developers to access AWS while in the browser, for example, provided a meaningful change at Amazon.

10. The goal of (all of) this is to deliver

Deliver only, and exactly only, those features that we want to deliver for you, said Vogels.

Amazon Does It Better, So Can You

Speaking of his online retail business, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said, "If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter, I think, in any business. It certainly matters online, where word of mouth is so very, very powerful."

It’s clear that that same philosophy has been extended to AWS and that Vogels and his team have embraced it. “Putting the customer (or end user) at the center of everything that we do,” is what Amazon does. It’s probably not a bad idea for the rest of us to follow in kind.