Don’t want your IT project to fail? Check your ego at the door

Human frailties are becoming a more significant cause of IT project failure. Technology factors, on the other hand, are fading as a cause of project failure as IT continues to increase in capability and decline in cost.

The behavior of project team members, be they project managers, business analysts or software developers are influencing project outcomes more than other factors such as risks or external surprises. Consider how to counteract these common human frailties that cause project calamities.

Excessive ambition

A certain amount of ambition is a wonderful leadership characteristic of successful project team members. However, too much ambition, often based on a boundless ego, leads to project team members:

  1. Thinking they know everything
  2. Not listening to other stakeholders.
  3. Irritating other project team members.

To restrain our excessive ambition, we need to bite our tongue from time to time and recognize that successful projects are delivered by teams that collaborative effectively. Perhaps we’ve reached the point of maturity where project team members are more accurately called project facilitators.

Unrecognized bias

We all bring our entrenched biases, accumulated through upbringing and experience, to our projects.

We tend to judge the performance of others more on fuzzy feelings influenced by bias than on concrete facts. For the resolution of project issues, we rely more on experience colored by bias than on well-established facts or solid analysis. Sadly, we may even initiate conflict based on our biases.

To be more successful project team members, we need to be brutally candid with ourselves, stick to facts and minimize the influence of our various biases when working on project teams.

Fading memory

Organizations struggle to retain memory of factors that have led to exciting successes, colossal fiascos, or best practices. Ideally, the learning from these events should be ingrained in the culture of the organization.

Project team members rarely have access to or awareness of past successes and failures. Organizations make little effort to conduct post-project reviews to document the learning and make them accessible to future projects. We move on to the next urgent project much too quickly.

As a substitute for the absence of local memory, we can read and use the rich trove of best practices that is freely available on the web.

Over-reliance on intuition

Intuition can be valuable, but too often it is a polite word that really means gut-feel. In the absence of solid data, we all have no choice but to base our decisions and recommendations on intuition.

Intuition should be a last resort. Fact-based decision-making should be the first choice for decision-making. Project team members, with their constant awareness of schedule, are prone to opt for making quick decisions based on intuition.

Only when fact-based decision-making disintegrates into analysis paralysis should we intervene to apply our experience and a small dose of intuition to achieve a quick recommendation.

Tunnel vision

It’s only human to acquire tunnel vision. Too often, we aren’t aware of the tunnel vision present in our life. Tunnel vision refers to our tendency to emphasize facts and opinions that appeal to us and de-emphasize or ignore facts or realities that we dislike or find uncomfortable.

Project teams are not exempt from tunnel vision. We tend to underestimate the impact of risks that can swamp our project. Because we want to be positive and view ourselves as efficient, we underestimate the effort that some tasks will consume even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

We should reach outside of our immediate environment and seek the perspective of peers and the experience of other industries to see how they’ve responded to similar problems.

What strategy would you pursue to minimize the adverse impacts these human frailties can inflict on projects in your organization? Let us know in the comments below.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz
Yogi Schulz has over 40 years of Information Technology experience in various industries. Yogi works extensively in the petroleum industry to select and implement financial, production revenue accounting, land & contracts, and geotechnical systems. He manages projects that arise from changes in business requirements, from the need to leverage technology opportunities and from mergers. His specialties include IT strategy, web strategy, and systems project management.

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