Managing risk and avoiding the “doomed right from the start” scenario

As the principal partner of Solutia SDO, Jackie Clark has had a direct role in managing the people behind the technology that’s transformed businesses across Canada. When IT projects stall, this seasoned leader, who’s had a front seat watching tech transform business in Canada, knows how to manage people to get projects running again. This bi-weekly column is for leaders working on enterprise-wide projects searching for insight on navigating the issues and pain points that hijack success. We’ll be sharing the most common questions Clark hears from her clients and her responses to them. Do you want your project management problems solved? Leave a comment with your question or  Tweet Jackie @sdosolutia.

It seems to be rare these days that projects get implemented on time, on budget, and actually meet the needs of the stakeholders. I don’t think it’s a problem with expertise – we invest a lot of time and money training project managers on risk management to make sure it’s incorporated into all project plans. So what’s going wrong? 

I hear you. And you aren’t alone. Check out these mind blowing stats I gathered from some pretty reputable sources:

  1. 70% of projects fail. [source: 4 PM]
  2. The failure of IT projects costs the economy about $50-$150 billion annually. [source: Harvard Business Review]
  3. 17% of IT projects go so badly, they threaten the existence of the company. [source: McKinsey]
  4. One in six projects has a cost overrun of 200% on average and a schedule overrun of almost 70% [source: Harvard Business Review]
  5. 73% of survey respondents admit that their projects are either always or usually “doomed right from the start,” [source: Geneca]
  6. Only 2.5% of companies successfully complete 100 percent of their projects. [source: Gallup]

Wow. Remind me why we’re still employed in the business and not asking our customers if they want fries with that?

Professional companies need to make risk management part of their day-to-day operations and include it in project meetings and the training of staff.

However to try to avoid the “doomed right from the start” scenario, take these suggestions into consideration even before the project starts.  

  • Invest in the best Project Management or Scrum Master you can with a proven track record you can actually validate. It may cost more but will be worth it in the long run (you know this already).
  • Eliminate custom coding wherever possible. If the original developers have left, it’s almost inevitable that something will go wrong when their code has to be changed. Low-code and no-code solutions are the way to go.
  • Understand the organizations capacity to do the work. Over the past few years companies have been dramatically reducing their staffing levels in an attempt to compensate for loss in revenue and other impacts on their bottom line. When you have no reserve capacity (best to have at least 15%), you can’t respond to surprises, glitches, or even opportunities. Voila – project overrun.
  • Make sure the project has direct alignment with organizational strategy. This is tricky if the organizational strategy is in constant flux, in which case, good luck.
  • Ensure the budget is accurate and secure (we’ve talked about how hard this can be but also how necessary to success).


Jackie Clark
Jackie Clark
Program and change management expert in digital and data transformation, and technology system reengineering.

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