Custer, Sitting Bull, Toby Elwin, blog

IT failure, too much information in Information Technology

Custer's Last Stand, Sitting Bull, Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse, Toby Elwin, blog

Little Big Horn meets information bias. Custer has to stand for Sitting Bull

Technology enables information access and facilitates information sharing. But why do so many information technology projects fail?

  • 74% of all projects fail, come in over budget, or run past the original deadline*
  • 90% of major Information Technology (IT) project initiatives fail to be completed on time and on budget*
  • A survey by the international consulting firm KPMG finds that 56% of IT projects globally fail, but believe that 56% is an underestimation of the scale of the problem
  • UK IT Director Forum Certus believes that failure rate of IT projects is closer to 90%

Why does the information part of Information Technology fail to deliver projects?

Why do we continue to spend so much of operations strategy on the technology portion of the common people, process, and technology framework when clearly it is the people that define the process and the people that launch technology, but it those same people don’t turn information into decisions?

Is it the technology at fault or is it the people behind the technology?  The designers?  The architects?  The system administrators?

The end-user can not be at fault.  If you believe the end-user is at fault, look around your desk, if you currently do not sit in IT, then you should: post-haste.

Realistically, IT projects provide plenty of information: scope, risk, stakeholder need, end-user requirements, communications, governance to name a few. And IT projects rely on subject matter experts to design components, identify need, define user requirements, and test functionality, but what is the break down?

Why do IT projects continue to fail?

Who are the sponsors for all these failures and who keeps funding these projects and expects different outcomes.

Once underway, who changes the game?

I propose we lessen the reliance on information and increase the reliance on decisions. Information technology is intended to enable decision making, clearly it is not.

  • Information on scope creep does not help, decisions to stop scope creep does help.
  • Information on risk does not help, decisions to mitigate risk does help.
  • End-user functionality information does not help, end-user decision feedback does help.

Let’s change the term Information Systems to Decision Systems.

Let’s change Information Technology to Decision Technology.

If we can’t rely on information for decisions, let’s stop trying.

Clearly, in times that seem to demand more information to enable rapid decision, we would do well with less information and more decisions. Having information does not mean you know what to do with it. Having more information does not always improve decisions.

I would love to hear your thoughts, your successes, and your stories on IT projects you have managed and how you have successfully managed scope, expectation, budget, time, and quality.

* Project Management Institute

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Comments 6

  1. Information technology is intended to enable decision making, clearly it is not. –> it doesn’t necessarily “enable” you per se. it will definitely help you and you can use it as one great resource. but to have it decide for you, is a big mistake

    1. Post

      In the post, I sought to point out too many organizations and businesses rely on technology to solve structural and procedural failures. Technology enables speed, but if decision-making and bureaucracy are crippling then technology will not necessarily improve your either. Technology will be incredibly successful at speeding up your inefficiencies. In classic operations management, you move the bottle neck, but have not increased the throughput or yield.

      People rely on information to make informed decisions and to enable business discussions. Without information we have a lot of personal cases for change, information is intended to provide a business case for change, and I agree with you, it is a big mistake to wield information – people are not being paid high salaries to provide information, they are paid high salaries to provide decisions.

      Thank you finding and commenting on the post. I wrote this back in December and am pretty sure the post came about from yet another client discussion about whether we should revisit a strategic discussion or to implement an enterprise technology “solution” without an executive strategy.

    1. Post

      I appreciate the response. I try to see how information technology serves business, as accounting, finance, and human resources are all intended to do.

      I read about it in books. I have seen it in emails. I have heard it said. I have, however, not seen it in the wild yet.

      Have you?

  2. I recently came across your blog by accident, and since then have become a big fan of your writing. I agree with your concept of Decision Technology. Explosion of Information is something that cannot be stopped now , I consider the birth of internet as the point of singularity and the big bang, and the expansion and chaos will only continue.

    The logical consequence of this is the expanding choices that everyone is now exposed to, now choices lead you to make decision. decision making involves different biases. Personal biases can be major obstacles in any decision-making process and are as complex as they are numerous. Biases seek to disrupt lucid contemplation of an issue by introducing externalities that are generally not relevant to the decision at hand.All Decisions are directed towards the future, and hence decisions are predictions. Nate Silver’s book “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–but Some Don’t” is a good one. Biases lead to you human behavior and human cognitive theories. Are humans Rational .. are they capable of making rational decision ?

    Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, Shankar Vendantam’s The Hidden Brain, Daniel Ariely Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

    Can Technology eliminate human bias and human irrationality is the question I have? Ray Kurzwiel the futurologist thinks yes.. and calls it the second Singularity a point at which humans and computers will merge into one… When Technology will be embedded inside humans, and “human intelligence will enhance a billion-fold thanks to high-tech brain extensions”.. and this is not very far according to him, he says this will happen in 2045. (30 years from now)

    1. Post

      I recently read the news article Why slow thinking wins by Tara Kadioglu and value the perspective brought up to help break, what I will term: Blink bias. Tara also makes reference to Daniel Kahneman Thinking, Fast and Slow and makes reference to a Cognitive Reflection Test that you may have heard of by Yale professor and Kahneman contributor Shane Frederick uses:

      a simple measure for whether a person solves a problem “quickly with little conscious deliberation” or through reflective, slow thinking.

      A lot of great resources and insight in your comment reply. I have taken to write more an this topic topic in recent posts:

      Seems there is a never-ending opportunity to challenge bias.

      Thank you for the contribution.

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