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PHOTO: Andre Hunter

IT project implementations don't always go according to plans, and when they do go off the rails, it can take a lot of effort (and resources) to set them back on track. What follows are some common reasons why IT projects derail and suggestions on how to overcome these obstacles. While some of the points below may feel like tough love, the intention is to shed a little light on what can be pivotal points in any IT project implementation. You could even use the below as a checklist to help you identify issues in currently problematic project implementations. 

Customer Is Not a Fit for the Solution

It is vital that, from the beginning, you have honest conversations to determine the fit of the solution relative to business targets. Just as fish aren’t designed to climb trees, there are times when solutions are not the right fit to achieve the intended outcome. Ideally, this gets sorted out when in the pre-sales / sales stage of the process.

Staff Turnover

Change happens. Growth is the prime directive in business. In either case, staff can be affected. When staff leave mid-implementation, it can leave a knowledge or skills gap that can slow, stall or even derail a project. In the event of staff change, the best alternative is to have a backup already trained or, in a worst-case scenario, a way to access the information needed through the transition. 

Lack of Organizational Commitment

IT projects require varying levels of commitment from the organization, leadership, management and staff, as well as financial backing and willingness to disrupt operations to upgrade. 

When any part of the organization is not committed, it can adversely affect the project. Communication is a big key to success in terms of harnessing and actualizing the necessary commitment(s).

Related Article: 3 Things to Look For When Hiring a Systems Integrator Firm

Product Issues

In the case where an IT project implementation revolves around a particular product, if that product has issues, additional expertise is required from either the supplier vendor of that product or your partner implementation firm. Either way, unless product issues are handled, the project will stall and/or workaround measures will need to be taken. The optimal resolution is for the product issues to be resolved before implementation work continues. 

No One Is Driving Success

While a company may commit to an IT project implementation, there may not be a champion or single point of contact responsible for assuring necessary elements are provided or in place. Just like the Abilene Paradox, if someone doesn’t ‘own’ the results, nobody steps up to help make them happen. Appoint a project lead to ensure project success. 

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Lack of Communication Between Customer and Implementation Team

Communication goes both ways. If there is a breakdown or constricted / limited communication from either the customer firm or the technical partner firm, the project could experience unexpected outcomes. As the old adage says, don’t assume anything: better to over- than under-communicate. 

Failure to Establish Trust

When a company chooses a tech partner, it’s a big deal and should be taken seriously. If there is any doubt or lack of trust (on either part), the project could (and likely will) experience some level of adversity in the implementation process. Should a lack of trust ever be a concern, have a conversation immediately. Lay out what’s going on so everyone can talk it through and get the project on track. 

Fear that Technical Partner Staff Are Trying to Take Jobs from Customer Personnel

When customer employees feel insecure, this can often be the result. However, this particular challenge is very easy to resolve in that people choose to work for implementation and integration firms for many reasons — a variety of projects, expertise gained from numerous environments, applying what they know in different situations and more. On top of that, there is typically a non-compete in place at the highest level. (And even more, it’s not the "right" thing to do for employees of a trustworthy technical partner.) Taking jobs from customer employees should never be a substantiated concern (and if it is, a serious conversation must be had immediately). 

Related Article: Secrets of a Smooth Digital Experience Implementation

Encountering Complex, Embedded or Unknown Technology

While the scope of work should take into account the customer’s full IT environment, sometimes it’s just not possible to know or predict every bit of the technology at play in a project. When complex, embedded or even unknown or new technology is encountered in a project, there will be either a learning curve or additional time needed to untangle and tame the technology. Make sure communication is thorough and consistent to keep this aspect of the project as smooth as possible.  

Scope Creep and/or Unmet Customer Expectations

While project Statements of Work (SOW) should clearly state the scope of the project, sometimes the needs or expectations exceed what has been documented. In some cases, this happens when a customer assumes that an additional aspect just ‘goes’ with the stated scope of work. In others, staff turnover may result in a request to change the scope of work. And in others, project momentum may surface additional work that needs to be handled. 

In all of these cases, the only way through these potentially sticky situations is to talk it out. The best perspective is to look for what will serve the project best (versus making it personal or using assumptions as facts). When possible, document the gap and make recommendations to resolve it as quickly and easily as possible.

While every IT project implementation has the potential to go sideways, the fact is most go fairly smoothly when there is advance planning, the right expertise, mutual trust, and consistent, candid communication. By knowing the above ways to keep IT project implementations on track, you can ensure successful outcomes for your company’s projects.