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Government IT projects are prone to failure for 6 very predictable reasons

Published in HBR - by Rita McGrath | 1:29 PM October 10, 2008

In the course of doing research for our forthcoming book, “Discovery Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity,” we have spent a lot of time researching disappointments, redirections, and outright flops. Many of these involve IT in some substantive way.

I was recently asked by reporter to comment on why IT projects, particularly government-sponsored IT projects, are so prone to failure, and it got me to thinking about the lessons we’ve learned from other kinds of failures. With today’s headlines screaming about how government is taking a much larger role in our economy — and by extension in our lives — I thought it would be helpful to consider what we know about why governmental projects tend to flop and what we might want to consider doing about it. Many of these lessons are equally applicable to IT flops of other kinds, but since almost every major program involves a technological component, they are particularly of concern for the guys who are now going to have billions of dollars to spend pretty much as they see fit.

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