Why Large-Scale System Deployments Fail – Understanding People & Data: Part 1

Leading IT research firm, The Standish Group, has examined the success rate of IT project for more than 25 years; classifying these deployments as Successful, Challenged, or Failed.

Successful – A successful project was one that met all three of the triple constraints: schedule, cost, and scope.

Challenged – A challenged project would have met two out of three constraints, for example, delivered on time and on budget but not with the desired scope.

Failed – A failed project is one that is canceled before it is completed or completed but not used.

Over time, organizations have improved their implement processes; however, in the last decade the success rate for large-scale deployments has become stagnant.  Standish Group’s  initial  studies in 1994 a baseline a success rate for IT projects at 16.2%  .   Twelve years later that rate had  increased to 35%.  Although early reporting showed an increase in the success of large-scale implementations, this increase has stalled over time.  In 2018, the success rate barely increased to a level of 36%.and also showed that 45% of projects were deemed challenged, while 19% of projected failed.

In the course of my career, I have been involved with numerous large-scale IT projects, and have experienced the full gamut when it comes to implementation and IT transition – success, challenge and failure.   It is my experience that the true difference  between success and failure hinges on two key areas:  People and Data.

All project managers will tell you that people and data are important elements to any project; however, in truth, they tend to take a back seat to other areas of the project.   There are ways to improve the project management approach and look at other considerations when planning for your next IT project.

Join me on this two-part blog series and we will dive further into impact that People and Data have on project success.


Understanding  People – Really Understanding the People  

People are critical for any IT project; but not just the the IT people. The people who will be utilizing the new applications are the real key to project success.

A misstep that I often see is underestimating the amount of time an IT project will have on the staff expected to  utilize the new systems.  In many cases, staff are assigned additional tasks for the IT projects on top of their daily work.  This can include data cleanup, data mapping, user acceptance testing, meetings to explain their daily processes, and training.  Depending on the size of the project, these tasks can add 1 to 4 hours per day onto an already full workload. If a plan is not made in advance of the deployment to address potential employee burnout, there is potential that either the deployment or the current workload will suffer.

To better prepare, leadership can plan for additional hours of work and develop a plan of action on how they will help their staff during the transition.  These plans should emphasize the importance of devoting time and attention to completing the project tasks assigned to them without falling behind on their day to day activities.  Hiring temporaries and/or interns  to do more generic tasks can  alleviate the workload and delivers a viable short-term solution.

Training of the end user is another area that can be glossed over during an IT deployment.  It is important for management to recognize the importance of training and ensure it is thorough.   Often times training will be the first area  cut when projects are are running behind schedule or workloads begin building up  This can lead  to staff leaning on old processes and utilizing the new system like the old system because they did not learn how to use it effectively.

Keep in mind that training can be tricky for end-users.  Having lead several  ERP deployments, I’ve seen firsthand that staff and end-users are  primarily focused on one thing in the beginning:    “What do I need to know about this system to keep my job?” Because it can take up to six months for teams to become comfortable with new technology, their initial focus is not about understanding the bells and whistles that a new system has to offer, it is about getting their daily tasks complete.   Consider having follow up training for the staff at 90-day to 180- day intervals.   It will be worth the investment to assure the new system is utilized to gain its maximum benefits.

If you are considering new technology and a system implementation, there are a few other points to consider:

  • Encourage leadership and management teams to participate in training. Not only does this accentuate upper management’s support of the new technology, but also allows opportunities to have conversations with staff regarding the transition.
  • Expect newer staff (less than 1 year) to have an easier time learning new system, since they do not have to “unlearn” old system.
  • Anticipate a drop in daily KPIs and other success measures; teams can be very challenged meet daily goals during the pre-work and training phases of the IT project and even up to 6 months after going live. Adjusting these metrics to compensate for the challenges that staff might face during the project sets a realistic expectation and tone.

Most importantly, find ways to reward and/ or recognize staff. This can be as simple as a pat on the back to appreciate their hard work, a pizza or ice cream party, or even gift cards in small amounts for those who go above and beyond in their contributions to the success of the project.  Recognition goes a long way!

The return on your IT investment will go further by giving people more time to adapt to new processes, and end the end, understanding the initial impact of the technology implementation on daily workloads can improve your success rate.

People are a large part of a successful project implementation, but don’t forget about the Data (data for days!)   Stay tuned for Part II of this blog series focused on the role that Data plays in the success or failure of large IT projects.


Liz Meyers serves as a Senior Manager of Internal Audit within McConnell & Jones’ Risk Advisory Services Team.  She is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Fraud Examiner, and Certified ScrumMaster with more than more than 30 years of experience in internal audit, information technology, accounting, process reviews, assessments and advisory services. Her career accomplishments include more than a decade with the world’s largest food distributor where she served as a Senior IT Director and managed deployments of proprietary and third-party software to a global workforce. While with this fortune 100 company, Meyers also served as the Chief Audit Executive responsible an internal audit department that directed financial and operational audits throughout the corporation. Meyers background also includes serving as the Senior Internal Audit manager for Texas’ largest worker compensation insurance provider where she planned and directed Operational and IT audits using a risk-based model focused on the company’s strategic objectives.

Connect with Liz on LinkedIn.