Effective Project Management, ITIL and BSM

By Hank Marquis

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As we march down the road towards business service management (BSM) it is clear that traditional project management techniques have not been successful in IT. It’s time to elevate IT project management to the level of required skill for all IT workers. Why? Because just 30% of IT projects come to a successful conclusion.

This is a good thing if these projects are terminated during the planning phase, but is a very bad thing if they are abandoned during execution or after. These project failures reportedly cost the industry $75 billion dollars per year. As if that were not enough, on average 51% of IT projects exceed budget by 189% and deliver only 74% of the promised functionality.

This got me thinking about a research report that I wrote in early 2006 about what makes some firms successful while others fail at adopting ITIL. One of the key findings in my report was that the successful treated ITIL adoption as a formal project.

Effective Project Management

Project management is not new to many IT organizations, although effective project management is probably scarcer than many want to admit. Many program or project management offices have been “doing projects” to IT for quite some time. Some IT organizations have also created a project management silo as well. However, many are incapable of resisting the temptation to make project management bureaucratic. Interestingly a CIO who came from project management ran the most smoothly operating IT organization I have ever worked with.

The IT community has a certification available to it: Project+ from CompTIA (the Computing Technology Industry Association). However, until the Project+ certification from CompTIA, there was no project management course leading to industry-recognized certification in IT project Management. Most companies offering project management courses, offer course(s) in IT project management, but many existing project management certification programs are generic in developed mostly from the architectural and construction industries. They also have very stringent application requirements and demand proof of hundreds or thousands of hours of project management skills—something very difficult to deliver for an IT person who more often than not uses no project management methodology and usually fails.

One notable exception is PRINCE2, but it has had very limited acceptance in North America, and is popular mostly in the European Union (EU). Moreover, the cost to gain a PRINCE2 certification is currently excessively expensive for most individuals and organizations to accept.

After looking deeply into Project+ it become clear that effective project management skills are just as important as understanding ITIL if you really want to improve IT operations. It also made me wonder if negative perceptions of ITIL can be traced back to a lack of project management skills by those trying to implement ITIL (and failing).

In what follows I make the case for providing low cost IT-centric project management training (like that found in Project+) for everyone in IT that you would consider for ITIL Foundation training. Should I ever run an IT organization again, I will do this.

Another Leg

IT service management (ITSM) is the subset of BSM and ITIL that focuses on managing IT organizational workflow. The other legs of the BSM stool are IT quality management (e.g., Six Sigma, TQM, etc.) and IT governance (CobiT, M_o_R, etc.) In the context of this analogy, project management would be the floor the stool sat upon.

In light of the clear failure of IT project management to date, it now seems the BSM stool needs another leg—in some form dedicated to addressing the uniqueness that is IT project management. And IT projects are different from other projects in a number of very important ways:

IT project planners and designers are also those who do the work. Architects don’t lay bricks for example, but software architects do write code. Worse, in most instances the project manager is responsible for requirements, but lamentably few are properly trained or experienced. Thus, almost from inception, the project manager is already contributing to the demise of the project.

Scope creep is especially rampant in IT projects. This is in part due to the relationship of IT to the business. In many cases the business takes the point of view that they must extract all that they can from IT while they can, because the opportunity may never present itself again. Further, non-technical project sponsors can be influenced simply by reading a magazine to demand new features be added to the project. (Few homeowners would consider tripling the size of their kitchen because they know it would mean losing their family room, but business sponsors routinely request IT work similar miracles.)

Roles within the IT organization and an IT project can change dramatically. Most IT project managers are more IT than project managers, and often it is assumed that anyone in IT understands all aspects of IT. Plumbers don’t often convert into roofers, but applications developers do find themselves turning into hardware technicians; just think about your typical voice over IP phone system project.

IT projects often involve many repetitive tasks. Projects are often interrelated and interdependent—really more a program than a project—but they are rarely approached that way. IT projects are seldom linear, unlike construction projects where project tasks execute in a well-rehearsed order understood by all involved.

In order to be successful IT projects require developing new skills and ways of working as well managing—in addition to all the standard project items. For example, not only designing a datacenter but also the processes for supporting the operation of the new datacenter. Yet, most IT workers do not think they qualify for popular generic project management certifications like PMP or CAPM from the Project Management Institute. Nor do they have the time to dedicate to all the niceties that a full-time project manager must address. Worse, they often have an innate (and not entirely unwarranted) prejudice against formal project management.

Most IT projects, as we saw earlier, never complete and most of those that do complete exceed their budget and fail to deliver as promised. Increasingly enlightened organizations take a Darwinian view of projects. Many start, but few are expected to complete. The key is they die after planning, and should be based upon good data so that the true cost for success is not outweighed by the cost to complete successfully.

IT project management can help us in a number of ways since its sole focus is to get the right work done well. Those that realize the importance of project management in general typically have an office of project management but usually do not extend project management training “to the masses.” How can project members possibly contribute successfully without understanding all that is involved with the project? This is a large part of the reason for the high rate of IT project failure.

Another way to look at the abject failure that is IT project management is to think about workload. Inevitably, members of a project team are rarely dedicated to that project alone. Instead, they are typically assigned to numerous projects, as well as day-to-day operational duties. Thus they must answer to many masters, some more powerful than others. I have yet to meet an IT organization flush with human resources; and IT is the most stressful place one can work. One of the reasons why IT is such a stressful place to work is because there is so much work to do. And not only is there a lot of work to do there’s very little room for variation.

Now go back can recall that about 70% of all IT projects fail—that’s all projects, large and small. Consider also that many smaller projects are not formally considered “projects” but are none the less in the mix. Not all IT projects are huge data center migrations, server consolidations, or new VoIP systems. Most IT projects are basic installations, moves, adds, and changes. Most research also proves that 60-to-80 percent of all IT outages are a direct result of a flawed or failed IT change.

Now let’s put the two things together: failed project management and failed change management. Together they result in a sort of perfect storm. This all means that a significant portion of the work going on in your IT organization today is not really productive work at all, but rather rework in response to failures. This suggests a profound lack of effective management in IT.

Let me be clear: about 70% of what you do on a daily basis is rework because of a lack of basic project management skills at all levels of your IT organization. Put another way, could IT budgets be decreased by 70% if rework was eliminated?

One other consideration. What percentage of IT work today involves outsourcing? If the same project failure metrics hold true for outsourcers, then can we assume outsourcing vendors are similarly affected? This would suggest that many companies are spending excessive resources only to transfer responsibility to equally dysfunctional organizations.

Now, try to imagine how much less rework or outsourcing there would be (and corresponding “free” resource for real work there would be) if we applied basic IT project management skills to day-to-day IT operational activities like making changes. Finally, add to this the force multiplier that is the ITIL process. Hopefully, you are beginning to see the light. This is the stuff of real competitive advantage here.

ITIL does not stand-alone. To be successful it must be part of a comprehensive strategic plan. Effective ITIL implementations require a BSM approach, and BSM requires project management.  

Hank Marquis is director of IT Service Management Consulting at Enterprise Management Associates based in Boulder, Colo. Marquis has more than 25 years of hands-on experience in IT operations, management, governance and operational frameworks. Visit his blog and podcasts at www.hankmarquis.info.