How to use ITIL to avoid 50% of IT project failures

It’s no secret that IT projects fail. What can’t be agreed upon is by which percentage. Many years ago, when I entered the Project Management world, I was told that as many as half of all IT project fail. Maybe there were not that many surveys at that time, so the assumption was more subjective, but it’s for sure that IT projects (and their Project Managers) have been watched carefully.

Has anything changed? Well, the percentage of failed projects now varies between 20% and 50%, and there are more Project Management methodologies, but the bottom line is still the same – IT projects fail. Being involved in Project Management for years, as well as in IT Service Management (ITSM) based on ITIL, I’ve noticed that there are many things that could be used for successful Project Management.

Behind the scenes

Arguing about possible reasons why IT projects fail could result in writing a book. And, new ones come up almost on a daily basis. If you take a better look at your projects – I’m sure you will detect dozens of possible sources of project failure.

Instead of thinking of them as possible sources of failure, let’s see what challenges Project Managers face along the way:

  • Technology related – Technology expands in rapid steps. Sometimes it’s hard to follow and once you master it… here comes something new. Even projects implementing the same service can use a completely different technological solution.
  • Capability related – As technology grows, so do expectations of the project results. And that puts an additional load on the Project Manager. He has to be “Mr. Everything.” He doesn’t go into the details, but must be informed, and able to answer all requirements, which usually spread throughout vast comprehensive technological solutions. That’s hard even for the professionals in IT, let alone the Project Manager (who is not necessarily an IT expert).
  • Time related – If you would ask managers (who approve IT projects) what is their first concern regarding IT projects, the majority would say – time. I see two main reasons here: managers have bad experiences regarding projects being (un)finished on time, and time constraints are set too short (at least from the project manager’s point of view).

So, many challenges arise that are potential sources of project failure, but ITIL (and ISO 20000) have many useful resources for Project Managers.

What is the fit?

First of all, IT Service Managers are benefiting from usage of Project Management throughout the service lifecycle (i.e., Service Strategy, Service Design, Service Transition, Service Operation, and Continual Service Improvement). You can find a few examples in my previous article ITIL and ISO 20000 – What does Project Management have to do with it?. But, value goes in the opposite direction as well. So, what use can Project Managers get from ITIL?

ITIL follows the service lifecycle, which might sound like a “big picture” view. But, if you take a closer look, you will notice that there are many details in processes and function that are in the scope of ITIL. And that’s the gain for a Project Manager. ITIL defines the service lifecycle, which starts from strategic decision, requirement definitions, design, and then to implementation and improvement. Most of the Project Management methodologies have some kind of initiation, plan, execute, and monitor/control phase. How do they fit together? Let’s see.

Initiation – This is a setup phase where you have to charter the project. The Project Manager can use Financial Management, Service Portfolio Management, and Strategy Management for IT Services, as well as general principles of ITSM based on ITIL (e.g., identify stakeholders like users, clients or processes and functions).

Plan – In this phase scope, requirements, project plan, and risks are defined. In ITIL vocabulary this is the place where the value created by the service will be defined. Value is defined through utility (“what” does the service do, i.e., its requirements) and warranty (“how” the service is delivered). Activities during this phase will gain from ITIL Service Design processes like Service Capacity, Service Availability, Information Security Management, etc.

Execute – This phase is the most visible phase of the project. This is where a product or service becomes real. ITIL can help with Service Transition processes. I have to point out – I think that in this phase there are some very important processes to the whole lifecycle like the Service Asset and Configuration Management process, Knowledge Management process, and Release and Deployment Management process. This is where most of the job is done and where most of the knowledge is created (and, hopefully, captured).

Monitor/Control – Last, but not least, here you will control the scope of the project as well as costs, quality, risks, and (very important) changes. While talking about the change, it’s important to distinguish between Project Change and Request for Change or change in general from ITIL. None of them has greater/lower importance, but they are equally important. And, if you skip one of them – an important aspect of the project is missing.

Usage of ITIL for Project Management purposesUsage of ITIL for Project Management purposes

Does ITIL compete or complement Project Management?

Both Project Management and ITIL are important for an organization to lower the percentage of failed projects. But, the trick is that none of them alone is enough for the Project Manager to “sleep peacefully.” Quite the contrary; both methodologies are valuable, but that value can multiply (note: not simply add) when used together.

And one more logical question – While using Project Management methodology together with ITIL, can you skip something that the methodology requires (and catch up with ITIL)? No, I don’t think so. It’s because Project Management methodologies and ITIL are not replacements for one another, but they do complement each other. Seen in the real world, they complement each other – very well!

Use this free  Project Plan for Implementation of the ITIL Processes and Functions to manage your ITIL implementation.

Advisera Branimir Valentic
Branimir Valentic
Branimir is an expert in IT service management (consultancy, training and tools), IT governance (training and consulting), project management and consultancy in IT and telecommunication. He holds the following certificates: ITIL Expert, ISO 20000, ISMS Lead Auditor and PRINCE2.