One in MindEdge’s series of question-and-answer sessions with leaders in project management.
Michael Krigsman is CEO of Asuret, Inc., a consulting company dedicated to reducing technology implementation failures. He is a recognized authority on the causes and prevention of IT failures, is frequently quoted in the press on IT project and related CIO issues, and writes frequently for ZDNet. He is considered an enterprise software industry “influencer” and provides advice to technology buyers, vendors, and services firms. Krigsman has been involved with hundreds of software development projects, for companies ranging from small startups to Fortune 500 organizations. He is a Board member of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame and the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, RI.
Q: If you could grab the IT world by the lapels and shake it collectively and say “Why are you making this mistake over and over again,” what would that mistake be?
Krigsman: I guess the symptom is, why are so many projects repeatedly late, over budget, and worse, not meeting the expectations of the business? What’s going on that drives these repeated mistakes? And it’s not limited to any one company, industry or market segment. It’s endemic across the landscape of enterprise software.
Q: You wrote for ZDNet about what sounded like a spectacular failure; I believe the title was “California abandons $2 billion court management system.” What happened?
Krigsman: That one’s relatively recent. People always like public-sector projects. In 2001 California decided it needed to automate with a common system across the state to replace 70 different legacy systems. The system was expected to cost $260 million in 2001, they spent $500 million, and the pricetag when they canceled the project would have been $2 billion to complete. There is a need for the system, but the legislature felt they could no longer afford to pay for it.
This situation embodies the worst of everything. You’ve got a project where the initial scope increased from $260 million to $2 billion, an almost 10 times increase in budget. At the same time there was a lack of coordination with the broader set of activities and pressures taking place in California, so that even though they needed this thing they had to terminate it, and spent almost $9 million to figure out if they could salvage anything.
I would make the argument that any time you have a $2 million project, the likelihood of something going wrong is very high. The question is, how can an organization run a large project at scale, and still make it come in on time and on budget, and meet the needs of the people whom it’s supposed to serve?
Q: How can it?
Krigsman: I think that these projects need to be structured to be smaller. To be broken down into a portfolio of smaller projects with deliverables in shorter time frames. This way you can go from one smaller success to another, rather than treating success as one big enchilada.
And that allows you to rethink and redirect the project as it moves along. A risk of large projects is that when you have one that extends over three, five, seven, ten years, the business rationale and need for the project has changed. The world has changed, technology has changed, so you run the risk of having a result that’s obsolete even if the project was on time and in budget.
And whenever possible, use commercial off-the-shelf technology or CUTS, as opposed to custom technology. In general program that uses off-the-shelf technology has a greater likelihood of success, and is certainly cheaper, than one that doesn’t.
Q: Can you name a large project that was done well?
Krigsman: Very few. You don’t hear too much about large projects done well. It happens, but they go quietly on their way. In general terms, I think that there are relatively few supersized projects that don’t go over budget.
Q: What are you reading, for business and pleasure?
Krigsman: I’ve been reading books on presentations lately, like Perfect Pitch. I do a fair amount of presenting and am always trying to learn how to do a better job. Another book is Business Model Generation, which is an outstanding tool for looking at innovative business models. And I read a lot of analyst reports, and voraciously read blogs and articles.
For pleasure, I read books on meditation.
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