How to Cancel a Failing IT Project

How to Cancel a Failing IT Project

“This implementation is going nowhere fast and I am canceling it,” said the CIO.

I was in shock. In an IT career spanning decades I had never witnessed an executive make a decision as bold as this. But, truth be told, this particular implementation had already gone on for twice the allotted time and delivered nothing notable—beyond a very long list of open issues.

Still, I jumped in to defend the struggling project. I said we would be foolish to waste all the efforts made to date. I said the business case had a clear ROI. I said reputations, and possibly jobs, were on the line if the initiative was terminated.

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Diagnosing a Dead-End IT Project- When to Fail Fast and Move On1

Diagnosing a Dead-End IT Project: When to Fail Fast and Move On

An IT department’s most critical point of failure lies in its inability to cancel a dead-end project. Canceling a project can be a great move, but it is uncommon. (When was the last time you canceled an IT project?) All too often, IT departments waste significant time and money on a fruitless effort.

Let’s explore the major reasons why an IT project reaches an impasse. Knowing the reasons will help find an effective, yet low-risk path to fail fast and move forward.

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IT Must Learn to Fail Fast to Succeed

Innovation is an imperative for all organizations, and particularly IT. With that imperative comes the need to fail fast.

In Fail Fast or Win Big, Bernard Schroeder writes that it is not just leadership, culture, and technology that make for a successful startup, but also speed and timing. It has become easier to launch prototypes and get instant feedback via such tools that range from free online tools, social media, crowdfunding, and crowdsourcing. Startups can learn faster and pivot to new options, thus reducing the risk of outright failure.

Entrepreneurs have reached an extraordinarily high maturity level of innovation and failing fast. Startup methodologies have been honed in the US and globally, making small innovators big threats to established enterprises. As a result, larger companies are adopting startup methodologies—including fail fast—for themselves. Unfortunately, many IT organizations are laggards in this regard.

IT should be leading the way. If we don’t, we will be asked to get out of the way!

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