Popular and academic commentary for many years has lamented the apparent fact that computer projects seem doomed to end up late, over- budget, and ineffective. Many have not even reached implementation, and their cancellation or suspension has been taken as further occasion for breast-beating by those involved in the complex business of bringing in new computer systems, and criticism from those demanding them. Of course there is an inevitable bias in the published stories, because good news is almost no news in any area of human activity. However, there is no doubt that many IT projects have indeed been unsatisfactory in their conduct, product, or result.
Therefore, in response to the at-least uncertain prospects for IT projects, much effort has gone into improving the general discipline and technology of delivering systems. This has not always produced a satisfactory outcome as seen by those who commissioned the work, however. One reason for the frequent disappointment can be found in the general misunderstanding of just what an IT project is. Properly, it is the total set of process, system, and relationship changes which are required to give effect to a new vision of how a piece of business should work.
Another mistake of some efforts to improve IT project management has been excessive concentration on the systems product which is the enabler for business change, at the expense of the total technical and business environment within which it has to be effective. A further mistake has been to rely too uncritically on the experience of managing projects in other spheres such as defence or construction.
For the purposes of this chapter let us take it that an IT project is defined as the total set of activities which have to take place to implement and take benefits from a new or changed set of business systems. It is by no means certain that the IT component is either the largest or the most difficult of the key activities concerned.
In the early 1980s a group of senior professionals in IBM United Kingdom gathered at their own initiative to share their experience of project problems. As the late Mike Pote, the then project management guru in IBM,