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Why projects fail? Hint – It’s not technical skills.

by Mike Rollings  |  March 28, 2013  |  Comments Off on Why projects fail? Hint – It’s not technical skills.

A large area of concern for many Gartner clients is “How do I get a large organization to do new things, to collaborate effectively, and to improve overall delivery effectiveness?” This area is a huge focus for our Professional Effectiveness research – it not only applies to architects, but also to our entire constituency of IT professionals. They all have challenges with the human-side of project success. I have had many discussions with clients relating to “How do I deal with humans?” piece – it is a different type of conversation, not so much about the technology as it is about how do you get buy-in, influence stakeholders and achieve lasting behavior change.

Our recent Gartner Research Circle survey asked clients about project failures. No respondent chose “technical skills” as the cause of IT project failure. What this illustrates is that IT practitioners know that non-technical skills are always a factor in project success. Yet many organizations ignore the development of non-technical skills.


Gartner’s Professional Effectiveness (PE) coverage provides detailed advice about developing non-technical skills – “how to manage, interact and work with people”. We focus on how an individual should develop themselves – how IT’s organizational and individual mindsets, beliefs, and actions impact what they do. It helps IT practitioners learn influence, collaboration, and communication skills that are traditionally weak and more centered on ‘telling and control’ than ‘engagement and influence’. PE research helps the IT practitioner learn proven ways to communicate, influence and think through behavior changes.

Here are two examples of recent client conversations:

  1. I spoke with a client who was given responsibility for an application portfolio rationalization project. Their organization tried to do this for the last several years with no success. The main failure we identified was a lack of developing stakeholder support. We discussed the approach described in the document “Developing Buy-in For Change” (client access only) and how to develop the necessary business stewardship.
  2. Another client was newly responsible for business relationship management function in IT. Most business relationship managers (BRM) had failed to change their role from “IT problem go-to person” to being engaged in business planning discussions and planning IT service delivery activities. We discussed the impact that businesspeople’s perceptions were having on these failures and discovered that the original implementation years ago failed at setting business expectations for the role. We discussed how to reset perceptions and expectations, how to illustrate the problem “Why do we even need BRMs?”, and also how to engage differently with business areas (discussed in “Redefining Marketing IT from “Telling” to Engagement”).

At our Catalyst Conference (July 29 – August 1, 2013) Jack Santos, Jamie Popkin and I will have several sessions about improving professional effectiveness. One such session is our workshop “Gearheads Guide to Your Future IT Career” based on our findings in our field research project “The Changing IT Career”. The workshop will cover:

  • What are the new realities for IT?
  • Why is it necessary to create a participative workforce and a new form of effectiveness?
  • How can I improve my engagement and my ability to engage others?

I hope to see you at Catalyst. It would be great to help you and your organization have more successful projects.

Category: applications  contextual-strategist  engagement  human-behavior  management  

Tags: gartnercat  behavior  business-outcome-mindset  catalyst-na  it-delivery  non-technical-skills  

Mike Rollings
Research VP
5 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Mike Rollings is VP of Gartner Research within the Professional Effectiveness team. His research discusses what IT professionals need to know about transformation, innovation, human behavior, contextual strategy, collaborative organizational change, communication and influence, and cross-discipline effectiveness . His research can be read by IT professionals with access to Gartner for Technical Professionals (GTP) research. Read Full Bio

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