Take Control of Rogue IT Projects to Minimize Risk and Maximize Reward

Do you find yourself taking the blame for technology projects over which you had no control?  It's an all too common occurrence.  For varied reasons, end-users sometimes go around proper project "channels" to select, fund, plan and execute their own technology projects.  From a management point of view, this creates a "rogue" project, formed outside the operational and management boundaries established by IT standards, best practices and the strategic management vision.   Rogue projects must be addressed in order to minimize the risks involved.  Read on to learn how.

Rogue Projects: Risks and Rewards

Rogue technology projects are typically conceived and executed outside established IT management channels. At times, these rogue projects can be organizationally self-defeating. Centralized IT project operations are established for a reason, i.e. to control project selection and promote global technology strategies, maximizing technical compatibility, minimizing redundancies, leveraging specialized skills, lowering costs, and (hopefully) improving results. What are the primary risks of a rogue project?

  • Rogue projects can increase the overall number of projects undertaken and executed. This causes costs to go up and increases overall project risks.
  • Rogue projects cannot be managed as a "project portfolio" and as such, they can be redundant, and more difficult to track for value, return on investment and lessons learned.
  • Rogue projects may not be completed according to standardized project management and/or technology "best practices", leading to higher costs, greater risks and lost productivity.
  • Rogue projects can produce incompatible deliverables, leading to conflicts and issues with technical interoperability, scalability, capacity, integration and security.
  • Rogue projects may not be properly aligned with strategic IT objectives.
  • Rogue projects may increase "total cost of ownership" for resulting technology deliverables, increasing support costs and complicating support requirements.
  • Once completed, rogue projects might have to be re-done to conform to technical or organizational standards, increasing costs and wasting resources.
"A picture speaks louder than 1,000 words".  Get an illustrated view of the project review and lessons learned process in our informative infographic Lessons Learned: The Road to Continuous Improvement.

Do you have a “rogue project problem”?

The questions laid out below are provided for investigative analysis, to get handle on the "rogue project" problem, help you evaluate “rogue project” results, and identify the "type" of projects that might be best suited to centralized management.

  • How many rogue projects have been initiated in your organization?
  • Of the total number of rogue projects, how many have been completed?
  • Of the total number of completed rogue projects, how many can be considered successes or failures?
  • Of the total number of rogue projects, how many were abandoned?
  • What are the costs associated with these various categories of rogue projects (completed and successful, completed and failures, and/or abandoned)?
  • Are there any common characteristics to be found amongst these rogue projects according to the aforementioned categories?
  • Of the total number of rogue projects, how many had to be re-done, and what were the total associated costs?

All this begs the ultimate question - "If you have a rogue project problem, what is causing your end-users to work around established standards to plan and execute their own 'IT' projects?"...

  • Service Dissatisfaction: End-users work around IT because they are generally dissatisfied with the project services provided. Dissatisfaction can be caused by any number of factors, including poor quality, lack of communication, failure to complete projects on time, project backlog, failed deliverables, etc.
  • Bureaucracy Overload: End-users work around IT to avoid the so-called bureaucratic "overhead" associated with IT sponsored projects. Bureaucratic overhead might include forms, approvals and oversight requirements. In addition, end-users might not want to "wait in line" to have their projects completed.
  • Corporate Culture: End-users work around IT as a part of the prevailing corporate culture, such as an inherent resistance to external control, or the desire to "just do it yourself".
  • Lack of Effective Communication: End-users work around IT because they are generally unaware of project procedures, and do not understand the benefits of the centralized project approach.
  • Insufficient Management Sponsorship: End-users work around IT because company management does not promote or support centralized technology projects. In fact, company management may even promote "rogue projects" through a "just get it done, I don't care how" attitude, or through an apparent disinterest in technology projects.  

Once you have obtained a solid grasp on both the scope and underlying cause of your "rogue project problem", you will be better positioned to engage workable management strategies. These strategies can encompass total elimination (which may be impossible) to total acceptance (which may be unwise). In all likelihood, the most workable solutions will lie somewhere in the middle. To eliminate rogue projects in entirety, you must be able to rely on the following factors:

  • You must have strong, tangible and visible management support.
  • You must have the authority and capability to enforce the ban on rogue projects.
  • You must have sufficient resources (staffing, funding, and time) to deliver on an expanding workload.

If these variables cannot be met, then a more practical approach is warranted. The key to this approach is mitigation - to minimize the negative impact of rogue projects through coordination, communication and procedural standards:

  • Set organizational standards to guide all technology related projects, to be applied whether projects are completed by the IT organization or individual business units.
  • Set project thresholds, allowing smaller, less strategic, less costly projects be completed in a de-centralized fashion, while larger, riskier and more strategic projects will be completed (or at least supervised) by the centralized IT organization.  (Also Read: Starting Concepts for Project Sizing)

Continue reading more on this subject in our featured articles Troubled Projects: Rescue or Find a Graceful Exit?, Are You Ready for a Risky Project?, and Working with Project Mentors and Sponsors.

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