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Critical success factors in IT: 8 out of 10 are human factors
Not a year goes by without entertaining stories of utter failures, major flops and ugly backlashes of companies and institutions that attempted to implement new IT projects. We wanted to know why.
Tags: Frink  services  Magazine  CISCO  Human Factors  Business Factors  business relevance  consulting  communication  cost saving  project analysis 
IAG’s Business Benchmark Analysis ¹ found that 68% of companies are unlikely to have successful technology projects: on average they exceeded their target time by 180%, overconsumed the estimated budget by 160% and delivered less than 70% of required functionality. So what went wrong? Who screwed up and at what point?

Let’s focus on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) here, not that collaboration or Business Intelligence and the like are dull, but that’s what the studies are precisely about (or: not that much research has been put into those areas yet). According to Somers & Nelson², the launching of a successful ERP project depends of 22 critical success factors, in which 8 out of the top-10 are "human factors”. Incidentally, Wong et al.³ found that 10 out of 14 critical failure factors of such enterprise are human ones. Don’t blame the IT guys: even technical excellence can’t mask procedural problems. As highlighted by a Finnish study⁴, “the success of ERP implementation projects is highly dependent on the human factors that stem from the various stakeholders in the implementation project” and at different stages of the process.
Poor consultant effectiveness translates in inability to bridge the gap between the system and the business process, and to transfer necessary knowledge to internal employees.

Communication
Communication from top to bottom and interdepartmental cooperation are meant to support business processes. Moreover, extensive communication regarding the benefits of the new project is crucial to influencing user perception positively and thus to win the support of all those affected by the change. Kevin R. Herrig and Shawn Scanlon⁵ posit the necessity of providing a consistent user experience and communicating changes before they occur, as keeping employees in the dark will increase their resistance to change: end users would rather keep working with an inefficient system than make the effort to adapt to a new one.

In a nutshell, implementation projects do not fail because of technical reasons, but rather because of tactical and management issues. Rowan Trollope, general manager Cisco Collaboration, puts it this way: “Deployment is dead. It should be adoption, not deployment”. Meaning, that IT guys cannot just sit back once the tech part is taken care of, even the green light started blinking at their side.

Executing a project successfully means also from IT side involving other departments and stakeholders in the planning phase for a smoother rollout with high adoption rates. As unfortunate as it may sound, technical excellence is not the key driver for adoption and satisfaction with the new technology.
Instead it's once more the human factor that seems to be the secret to success.
Here’s a breakdown of the most prominent problematics issues:

Project management
By failing to assess correctly the real scope and impact of the project in the first place, management is responsible for making unrealistic implementation plans leading to cost and schedule overruns and insufficient ROI. Specifically, IAG’s study shows that companies who fail to uncover interdependencies, set unambiguous goals and document the actions required to support the process “should expect a better than 30% chance of failure on the project and understand that there is less than a 20% chance that the project will be considered successful unless remedial action is taken.” Reasonable goals and explicit strategy must be set before even seeking top management support.

Top management support
In addition to providing sufficient resource and diffusing innovations within the company, top management executives play an active role in the system’s adoption by demonstrating a strong commitment to its successful implementation. As stated by Wong et al., “insufficient commitment could lead to political problems which hinder the implementation process by causing poor BPR, widespread user resistance to change and low user satisfaction”.

Third-party consultancy
If an objective third party proves itself useful in measuring business requirement and facilitating the implementation process, a careful assessment of the consultants’ proficiency and industrial knowledge is c. As pointed out by Somers & Nelson, “a major concern stems from financial ties to the recommended software vendor and lack of expertise and experience in ERP appropriate to the business”.
Don’t blame the IT guys: even technical excellence can’t mask procedural problems.
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References
¹ Ellis, Keith (2008): Business Analysis Benchmark. Published by IAG Consulting. Accessed on 25/03/2014: http://www.iag.biz/resources/library/business-analysis-benchmark.html
² Somers & Nelson (2001): „The Impact of Critical Success Factors across the Stages of Enterprise Resource Planning Implementations“. In: System Sciences, 2001. Proceedings of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Conference on
³ Wong, Ada, Chau, Patrick Y. K., Scarbrough, Harry and Davison, Robert (2005) Critical Failure Factors in ERP Implementation. In: 9th Pacific Asia Conference on Information Systems (PACIS 2005), Bangkok, THAILAND, JUL, 2005. Published in: PACIFIC ASIA CONFERENCE ON INFORMATION SYSTEMS 2005, SECTIONS 1-8 AND POSTER SESSIONS 1-6 pp. 492-505.
⁴ Vilpola, I., & Väänänen-Vainio-Mattila, K. (2005, September). Evaluating human factors in ERP implementations. In Proceedings of the 12th European conference on information technology evaluation (ECITE2005) (pp. 511-520).
⁵ Herrig, Kevin R. & Scaulon, Shawn, (2013) “10 critical ERP upgrade mistakes”. TechRepublic, accessed on 10/08/2015: http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-critical-erp-upgrade-mistakes/
Editorial Team: Claudia Kaefer, Manon Pierre
Not a year goes by without entertaining stories of utter failures, major flops and ugly backlashes of companies and institutions that attempted to implement new IT projects. If there's not a single reason why their implementation should fail majestically, studies show that rather than technical factors, human factors –understood as behavioural and tactical- are the most determining ones.