6 Essential Factors: How to Ensure the Success of Large-Scale IT Projects


The Gartner Group reports that 75% of large-scale technology projects like ERP and CRM fail. So it’s critical that you put yourself in the best possible position to see success in those big projects.

By far the largest overarching mistake that corporations make is the tendency to view their transformational projects as belonging entirely beneath IT’s umbrella. As a result, they fail to accord these projects whole-business importance, and thus, they lack active top-level business support and commitment, as well as a clearly defined economic business case. Aligning the organization’s economic or financial goals with the project’s contributions toward those goals inside a “living” business case, helps overcome a variety of “speed bumps” during what can be a two- to four-year journey: When approached from an economic point of view, it’s possible to identify the benefits of a large transformation program sooner, thus helping to both justify and fund the future costs of delivering larger benefits requiring more time and effort.

When these missteps are combined with a handful of others, it’s no longer a mystery why costly failures are so common. A study conducted with Oxford University found that large IT projects run 45% over budget and 7% over time while producing only 56% of the predicted value. What’s quite a bit worse is the phenomenon of extreme cost overruns known as “black swans.” According to the Harvard Business Review, research that examined 1,471 large-scale IT projects found that one in six had a cost overrun of 200%, and a schedule overrun of 70%: When Levi Strauss, for instance, decided to migrate to a single SAP system, allocating a budget of $5 million, things went so badly that the company suffered a $200 million loss. While Levi Strauss survived, the Harvard Business Review notes that mismanaged IT projects have not only cost the jobs of top-level managers, but they’ve actually sunk corporations and threatened cities and even nations.

Here are the 6 essential factors to better ensure the success of your large-scale IT Projects:

1. The Project Needs to be a Top Priority

A project that affects the way your entire company is run must be a top priority for your business, not just a top priority for IT. Everyone needs to be on board ‚ and stay committed until the project is successfully completed. That’s because a major IT initiative involves far more than technical skills and tasks. When the IT infrastructure that supports your company is about to change, educating and managing people is equally if not more important‚ and as complex, as installing and implementing new software.

Those in charge of this degree of change should be your best business-side managers – those with excellent people skills, and an understanding of both the corporate culture and the new technology (or have a good relationship with trustworthy advisors, as well as your own IT department).

All too often, the business side wrongly misinterprets its role in an IT project of this magnitude. And, just as often, IT leadership fails to communicate or engage with the business correctly. It’s true that the business side is usually involved upfront, helping to choose the software, articulate requirements, and/ or define the business case: Unfortunately, when this “honeymoon phase” is over, business leadership tends to drift away, viewing the project as “owned” by IT. As a result, these leaders don’t see the transformation project as a top priority, so they immediately re-focus their attention on other priorities. But when business leadership isn’t actively involved, and leave it to IT to manage both human and technological resources (something they are in no position to do), the project not only isn’t going to get done, it can easily result in a sinkhole of financial loss.

2. Your Best People Are Dedicated to the Program

As we saw in the first essential factor above, the people element in large-scale IT projects is just as important as the technology, if not more so. To succeed, it’s wise to dedicate your best people from core business units to this initiative, to ensure that everyone in your company will accept their decisions regarding project implementation and that the project will be handled with a high degree of efficiency and skill.

For transformational initiatives, organizations should use the program as a way to prepare the future leaders of the company: By seeding the program with high-performing individuals, you not only better ensure the success of the program, but you allow those future leaders an opportunity to shape the company.

3. Your Compelling Business Case Justifies the Investment

Before launching a project of this size, you might expect that developing a compelling business case, one delineating expected value and expected cost, is a given, a no-brainer. Unfortunately, in many cases, no business case is ever developed. As a result, the project lacks the built-in methodology for driving decisions about design, cost, and functionality tradeoffs that a business case can provide. Knowing your expected value and cost helps justify investment in the project, and so is essential to its continued progress and completion.

4. Your Executives Provide UnwaveringCommitment and Support

Large-scale transformational IT projects require the active commitment and support of top executives for a period of two to four years, in order to be successful. Too often, though, when a project is only partially completed, the senior executives lose focus and begin to think about moving resources to another initiative that seems promising. This is one of the most common ways to ensure the failure of your IT project. Seeing the initiative through to completion with full commitment and support is the only path to success.

5. Your Decision Making Is Top-Down, Center Led, & Swift

To provide a transformational IT project with the robust governance framework it needs from start to finish, the members of your business and technology program management team should operate with clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Decisions should come from those whose roles are at the top, be led by those who occupy the center positions, and be executed swiftly by everyone.

At the same time, and before the project begins, another governance framework should be developed that will handle the inevitable project changes – from cost increases to schedule alterations, to scope creep. “Guard rails” should be put in place, so that, if a cost increase or a schedule change exceeds a certain threshold, a designated top decision-maker will become involved – although not before.

Finally, the project management team should meet with all stakeholders on a regular basis, in order to communicate project progress, and be sure that the goals of all involved are in alignment with the project’s direction and scope ‚Äî as it develops and evolves.

6. You have Independent Controls and Transparency

Finally, you will need skilled experts for fire prevention and potential firefighting who can course-correct processes quickly, if needed, and can fill-in any expertise gaps within the organization, all while providing an objective view that makes success far more likely.

At the same time, you want to ensure that communication between business and IT is both constant and transparent. Miscommunication, or no communication, can compromise an initiative of this size all too easily.

Increase your overall odds of success

Our clients find that there is a considerable difference between hiring an IT consulting company to implement their transformational solution and bringing in Liberty as an objective advisor. We act as your partner in the truest sense of the word – with your company’s interests top of mind at all times. Our extensive experience in large-scale IT projects gives us a unique perspective: We offer project oversight and engage in management responsibilities along with our clients.

Each of our successful case studies shares many of the same features: reduction of business risk, maximizing business value, and an overall alignment to our client’s long-term goals. Having course-corrected hundreds of projects in challenging situations, we have gained unmatched insight into the pitfalls of large-scale IT projects.

Reach out to Liberty Advisor Group today and together we will ensure you’re in the best possible position to see success in your next big project.

About Liberty Advisor Group

Liberty Advisor Group is a goal-oriented, client-focused business and technology consulting firm based in Chicago. Since its inception in 2008, the firm has been committed to helping clients solve their most complex business issues, delivering tangible results that drive growth and reduce risk. Year after year, Liberty has been recognized for its people, culture, and hard work. In 2023, Liberty was named to Best Place to Work in Chicago by Crains’ Chicago Business,  Best Workplaces in Chicago™ in 2023 by Great Place to Work and Fortune Magazine. Liberty Advisor Group has the experience to realize our clients’ highest ambitions. Learn more on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Add insights to your inbox

Get the latest in leadership news delivered straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.