Is Your Project Turning into a Black Hole?

by Mark Keil, Magnus Mahring

Fall 2010

Volume 53
Issue 1

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Any seasoned executive knows that information technology (IT) projects have a high failure rate. Large IT projects can become the business equivalent of what astrophysicists know as black holes, absorbing large quantities of matter and energy. Resources get sucked in, but little or nothing ever emerges. Of course, projects do not become black holes overnight. They get there one day at a time through a process known as escalating commitment to a failing course of action. Without executive intervention, these projects almost inevitably turn into black holes. This article sheds light on the insidious process through which projects that devour resources, yet fail to produce business value, are created and gradually evolve into black holes. It presents a framework that explains the creation of black hole projects as a sequence of three phases: drifting, treating symptoms, and rationalizing continuation. The framework is illustrated through two cases: EuroBank and California DMV. The article then presents recommendations to prevent escalating projects from becoming black holes and provides a means for detecting problems at an early stage.

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