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How Winning IT Projects Avoid Inertia & Sustain Momentum


In the battle toward successful technology launches, finding and sustaining traction is just as important as defining and communicating proposed benefits.

It’s no secret that many enterprise IT projects fall short of expectations. In fact, market researcher Gartner estimates that up to 25% of all enterprise implementations end up over budget, under deliver, or are abandoned altogether. Additionally, over half of these projects were compromised in some way, typically due to poorly defined objectives and proposed benefits. 

By adhering to two basic principles, however, IT practitioners can ensure a successful result:

  • Verify that the project benefits are well communicated early on to all participants.

  • Maintain momentum once a project is underway, even when encountering obstacles.

The consequences of inertia can be severe — from negating hard-won gains and compromising project integrity, to undermining the business case, losing competitive ground and even stunting growth. With the stakes this high, it is vital that companies learn what they can do to keep their IT projects well-defined and moving forward. 

Why Projects Lose Momentum

In most cases, IT projects gain momentum up to a certain point, then stall after excitement, initial buy-in, and the “honeymoon” effect has dwindled, according to Harvard Business Review

For example, an enterprise might choose a commercial, off-the-shelf software program to support an IT project. Internal IT staff are brought in, resources are allocated, hardware is purchased and rollouts are planned. Then the project team might encounter unanticipated and discouraging issues later on, such as having to compete for resources with other enterprise programs.

We refer to these disruptions as “warthogs” — ready to intervene and derail a project when least expected. They can be particularly harmful when a project is at a critical stage, such as deciding the best deployment approach.

Unless these roadblocks are managed effectively from the outset, projects can suffer a steep decline in momentum — eventually reaching a critical juncture that may compromise the entire project. Of the 377 business leaders polled by the Harvard Business Review, 94% stated that internal dysfunction was the main barrier to growth, rather than a lack of opportunity or competitor performance. 

For example, a major UK grocery chain engaged us recently to deliver a multi-year IT management program. Due to the project’s complexity, significant planning, time, and resources were required to achieve the desired effect. 

Nevertheless, the project ground to a halt shortly after work began. Rather than sustaining the momentum from the exciting blueprint phase, inertia set in. This was largely due to multiple layers of governance, a negative experience from a previous IT project and a hindering “management by committee” mindset that prevented quick wins.

Maintaining and Regaining Momentum

Getting a project back on track once it has reached a critical juncture requires genuine leadership and decisiveness; it is not something that happens by following a project management methodology. 

We’ve identified seven steps project managers can take to maintain and/or regain the momentum with ongoing or upcoming IT projects. Explore the interactive graphic below to learn more about the seven steps.

Figure 1

In the above example with the UK grocer, we later regained the project's momentum with a company-wide blessing from the board of directors, enacted a new internal promotional campaign to communicate the program’s objectives for better morale and excitement, and assigned “change champions” to lead IT efforts within individual teams and departments. 

Looking Forward

Successful IT programs require project leaders to not only identify, articulate and communicate the desired benefits of the projects to all involved, but also to ensure momentum throughout the process. Thus, we believe that momentum is a critical aspect of IT transformation, with far-reaching impacts that will pay short and long-term dividends to the entire business.

To learn more, please read “Creating & Sustaining Momentum in IT Programs: A Handbook,” visit our Digital Transformation Practice or contact us.

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