Failing IT projects are the norm. Time and again we hear of delay and overspend for new IT systems, whether they are for the private sector or a part of a larger government mandate. Failing projects inevitably end in disputes, usually in the courts or in binding arbitration, where the customer or vendor is forced to write off some, or all, of the wasted costs. Shareholders and the taxpayer deserve to know that there are better ways of handling these disputes.
There are underlying factors inherent in IT which make disputes inevitable. A fairly simple computer program involves many more moving part equivalents, and many more degrees of freedom, than a physical work of engineering – for example, large computer programs are some of the most complex works ever created by humans. Because they are usually constructed by years of accretion, no-one can reasonably be expected to understand the program in its totality.
Add to this the fact that computer programmers vary hugely in talent and frequently move jobs, that part of the purpose of a computer program is to compel the customer’s employees to change their existing work habits (frequently against their will), and that corporate boards naturally tend to spend their limited time focusing on increasing sales rather than following the ebb and flow of an IT implementation project, and it soon becomes apparent that IT implementations are more or less ungovernable by contractual mechanisms alone. Therefore, as we have said, disputes are inevitable.