Rescuing a Failing IT Project

Embarking on a digital transformation journey can be a pivotal moment for any mid-sized business. It’s an opportunity to revolutionise your operations, enhance the efficiency of your business, and set the stage for future growth. However, this type of journey can quickly experience unforeseen challenges and obstacles and below I share an example of how I helped get a client’s ERP project back on track.


The client was a local and mid-sized manufacturing business that a few months prior had started on a digital transformation and was in the process of implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.  Through a mutual contact, I got asked to come and have a look at the project as it wasn’t going how the owner expected despite a significant investment and months of effort.

The solution they had chosen was well known and quite popular in their industry and they were using a reputable integration partner to deliver it, so I was a bit surprised they were having issues.  One thing I did notice however was that there wasn’t really anyone within the client’s organisation that had overall responsibility for the project.  The owner was the expert and he was driving the project but his time was limited and he wasn’t really focussed on all the project related things he needed to look after. This meant that the vendor struggled to get timely feedback on questions they had and so there were delays and missed deadlines, causing frustration and tension between the client and the vendor. Blame was traded back and forth and at one stage, the project was close to being cancelled.

The need for a new ERP system was pretty important to the client’s plans and it wasn’t looking like they would ever get this in and working.

The Issues

When I was brought in it was to carry out a project audit, objectively to find the root cause of the current issues and hopefully help get things back on track.  Some of the first things I found were:

Inadequate Project Management: The project lacked a robust governance structure, with unclear roles, responsibilities, and decision-making processes within the client’s business.  Every decision had to go to the business owner and his lack of time meant that things were being delayed. With no single person responsible for ensuring that their deliverables back to the vendor were met on time, the vendor couldn’t progress and this was a major contributor to the project’s derailment.

Communication Breakdowns: Without a single point of contact within the client organisation, there were significant gaps in communication between the client and the vendor. This led to misunderstandings and misaligned expectations, and a breakdown in trust on both sides.

Scope Creep: The project’s scope had gradually expanded beyond the initial requirements, resulting in scope creep that was not properly accounted for.  It was heading down the path of being an over-engineered system that exceeded the client’s actual needs, with inflated cost and unnecessary complexity.

The Resolution

After explaining the key issues to the business owner, he then asked me to stay and help address the issues and make sure the project delivered.  The first thing I then did was to arrange what I call a “project reset” – this is basically a meeting with key people from both the client and the vendor. The purpose of the meeting is to address the issues head-on and hopefully come away with a realignment of the scope, and timelines that everyone can agree on.

Part of what we did was to implement a basic project management framework. This included clear milestones, regular status updates, and a structured process for identifying and addressing risks and issues. We also put in place some tracking measures to make sure the project stuck to the revised schedule.  The Operations Manager was nominated as the project’s lead and became the central conduit between the vendor’s project manager and the various teams within the business.

Another process I put in place was regular problem-solving and status update sessions. These were done as a daily ‘stand-up’ session – 30 minutes at the end of the day, bringing together the client and the vendor, and encouraging open communication and a partnership approach to solving any issues. This approach helped to rebuild trust between the client and the vendor.


Luckily, these strategies enabled us to bring the project back on track and although we didn’t manage to recover the lost time, delivery was completed and both the client and the vendor ended up happy.  In fact for the future phases of the digital transformation both parties are willing to continue to work together.

This example highlights the importance of having a dedicated IT leadership resource when undertaking transformative technology initiatives. Without a strategic oversight role focused on aligning the project with business objectives, managing stakeholders, and ensuring proper governance, even the most well-planned IT projects can quickly derail.

If you’re considering a major technology transformation for your business, don’t underestimate the value of strong IT leadership. Consider partnering with a virtual CIO that can help ensure your next IT project stays on track, delivers value, and positions your organisation for long-term success.

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