Root causes of success of technology projects

Summary of Appreciative Interviews

The root causes of success are “soft”. They are about the management of the project.

  1. Arrive at the contract between supplier and customer via exploration, testing, conversation and dialogue. This builds mutual trust.
  1. Broadcast your successes as you go.
  1. Communication is critical for the success of projects. To do it well enough takes time, imagination, thought and planning.
  1. Create a strong and supportive multifunctional team that meets regularly and talks openly. If possible make sure the core team is small.
  1. Commitment from everyone involved is crucial. This takes time and frequent and detailed conversations.
  1. Engage with the key people very early on in the project. Involve everybody as it progresses but encourage them to keep things simple and focus their energy.
  1. Find outstanding people, they exponentially increase your chances of rapid progress.
  1. Focus on getting the job done and disregard cultural, hierarchical or bureaucratic barriers. Make and use informal contacts to get things done.
  1. Give people the opportunity to learn about and test the system before it goes live.
  1. Have a champion or champions for the project. Make sure they always know what is going on.
  1. Have a clear, agreed and intrinsically meaningful goal for the project. This is worth the time and detailed discussions it takes.
  1. Have a skilled and experienced project manager with the authority to manage the project.
  1. Have resource limits and deadlines that make people use their imagination to meet the goal.
  1. Have some limited margin for requirements that change, as people understand more clearly what the project requires. See change as inevitable and an opportunity to be smarter.
  1. IT may have the idea but it essential that the business sees the benefits and owns the project.
  1. Learn rapidly from successes and problems. Use your learning for the present project and later ones.
  1. Make sure you get buy in from everybody involved by actively listening to and responding to their concerns and suggestions.
  1. Maintain constant and open dialogue between all the stakeholders in the project.
  1. Test concepts in a small way by demonstrating them first.
  1. Make sure everybody knows what their role in the project is and how their job will contribute to the success of the project.
  1. Define the scope of the project early and resist project creep.


These root-causes lead to successful projects, which happen on time and to budget, work and make or save money. You reported feeling fabulous, vindicated, relieved, chuffed, excited, pleased, marvellous and “drunk” when you achieved success.

Next steps

It is very surprising that although these conclusions appear obvious and none desperately difficult, still only 39% of technology projects succeed. We are still not sure why this number is so low. However, one thing was quite clear from all the people who participated in our small study. All of you wanted your project to succeed and had this as a personal priority.

We would like more projects to be as successful as the ones we discussed. We would very much appreciate your thoughts on what we should do next.


I worked on this project with Mary White, and the interviewees were Martin Dale, Trevor Jenkins, David Wedge, Paul Buckley, Rory Murray, Keith Turner, Susan Popoola and three people who prefer to be anonymous. Thank you for all your help.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick