Biggest IT Myth of all time?

I believe that the biggest IT myth of all time is: that there are no such things as IT projects, only business initiatives. Anyone who repeats that myth, or believes it, does not understand the world of IT.

There are genuine, pure-play, IT projects (Infrastructure renewal, data/ platform optimisation/ upgrade) that are simply a cost of doing business, like the cost of electricity, or carpeting a reception area.

Pure IT projects (like those described above) are usually only business initiatives for the vendors of the products involved, often instigated by the scheduled withdrawal of support for otherwise stable versions.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that such projects are often “bundled” in with other business initiatives, hoping to piggyback direct business benefits. Very often spurious productivity claims are made in support of the cost/ benefit analysis.

This does nothing for the integrity of those concerned.

We should be completely transparent about such costs and not try to dress them up with spurious business/ productivity benefits.

Do you agree that this is the biggest IT myth of all time? If not, what is?

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  • John Milner

    I wish it was that simple! In practical terms “pure IT projects” can improve efficiency by reducing the costs of of delivery of business systems without changing them. The new hardware just needs to demonstrate a realistic payback on capital, but that begs the question of why you did it. If you did it because you like the new technology it’s obviously an IT project, but if you did it to reduce costs it’s arguably a business project

  • colinb

    A question for John Milner – what about those times when you are forced into an expensive upgrade to maintain support for key technology?

    The “benefit” is ongoing support. However, the costs are very often incremental because newer hardware/ software versions invariably create inter-dependent cost increases.

    For sure the upgrade might open up new functionality. But how many organisations feel comfortable when forced into an untimely expenditure for “unnecessary” upgrades?

  • Frank Krasicki


    I don’t understand your point. Are you saying all IT is business or that all business is IT?

    I think I would agree that the two are inseparable. If you are saying the agents of change are vendors, I would disagree because vendors are little more than a symptom of accelerated technological innovation.

  • colinb

    Frank – this blog post was about the [too often made] statement: “there is no such thing as an IT project.”

    I disagree because I believe that there are pure-play IT projects and we should be mature enough to admit this, rather than do as some do and try to dress up a truly IT project as a business initiative.

    Very often, the pure IT projects are driven by technology providers who wish to move the installed user base forward to a more recent/ latest version.

  • TonyO

    I’m a little at a loss here. Why would anyone execute an IT project if it didn’t deliver business benefits (excluding research). The ratioanle for upgrading ‘because support is withdrawn’ is purely business related. I.e. without support you can’t deliver a service to your users. Even if the users are within IT then one would hope it’s to provide a function in the support of the business (e.g. help desk for users).

    I’m now keen to see if someone can come up with a true non business related IT project and prove this wrong.

  • Amritpal

    I would agree with TonyO that whatever and however you like to present a pure upgrade necessiated by a vendor, it still has a business flavor to it. Otherwise the business does not need to spend the cost associated and sunset the application or the hardware itself. If the need to proceed exists, it does have a business value associated. This again puts it back into the Business category rather than a pure IT project.

  • Alan

    If we deconstruct the phrase ‘IT Project’ into its components we get
    1. IT
    2. Project

    IT is an abreviation of Information Technology and is acting gramatically as a noun adjunct, in that it is modifying the meaning of the noun ‘Project’, restricting the project to IT deliverables.

    If we take the definition of Project, according to Prince 2 we get “a management environment that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to a specified business case”

    Therefore all projects are business projects. Which is a little constrictive, but there you are.

    If we take the definition of a Project according to PMI/PMBOK “consists of a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result”

    which is better, as it allows for a broader set of drivers than business alone, such as research, or indeed the desire to defend or go to war with countries. You could perversely argue that all results, even defending a country is a ‘business’, but that isn’t really true and is just a cultural reflection of free market thinking (that wouldn’t transpose well into all cultures)

  • colinb


    here is an example of a pure-play IT project:

    withdrawal of NT4 support by Microsoft

    “benefit” of moving to a supported platform is a direct benefit to all services running on the platform. However, none of the business unit service owners are likely to have budgeted for such an infrastructure renewal upgrade. They are quite content with the service provision and see no “moving parts” so do not accept the purported benefit. The cost of the upgrade is therefore likely to be charged back indirectly through whatever IT charging mechanism in place.

    Vendor/ Manufacturer version upgrades are the hardest sell bar none, in my experience, when it comes to convincing a senior management team to invest.

    Here are a couple of other considerations – how often would a logistics manager ask the Marketing department (for example) for a contribution to replacing a truck?

    Or would a facilities manager get much joy if they expected each business unit to chip in for the new carpet in the reception lobby?

    The problem is we have not been honest enough in the past (or planned well enough, perhaps) to factor in routine platform/ version upgrades and retirement.

  • Terry

    Interesting discussion and I should like to add my view.

    A project is something to be done.
    A benefit is the completion of the project to the expected result within the usual parameters of cost, quality and time.

    On top of this we can pile all sorts of goodies such as control mechanisms which arfe mostly feedback to inform us of progress and to guide us for future similar events.

    In the UK some cling to PRINCE 2 with Gateways and that is fine but it does rather re-invent the wheel compared with PMBOK. We may find a better way by avoiding PMBOK.

    Let’s look again at the phrase ‘no such thing as a IT projects'(sic).

    There are, I agree, business projects and I guess we can define a subset of that as IT projects as has been suggested (NT4) and perhaps we can add WiFi connections to a network as another example.

    Let’s turn again to a project: put up a shelf for the ….’: if it is for books is it an IT project? If it is for a photocopier is it an IT project? If that photocopier could be connected to a computer, but is not and is not intended to be, it that an IT project?

    Now we connect the photocopier to a newly purchased PC as a printer. Has the erection of the shelf ever been at IT project?

    On the other hand, if we had intended to use the said photocopier as a printer would it have been an IT project from the time we started to put up the shelf or from the time we decided to remove the books to make space for the photocopier/printer|?

  • Alan

    “Or would a facilities manager get much joy if they expected each business unit to chip in for the new carpet in the reception lobby?”

    But they do! In many many organisations. They plan a budget that includes the renewal and maintenance as forseen, and a pot of budget for the stuff not forseen. This budget is ultimately approved by the CFO on behalf of all the business units, and in many organisations gets allocated back to the business units as a charge, often driven by the headcount in that unit or the square footage of that business unit’s occupation.

    In all big organisations I have worked for or with, a very similar process has been adopted by IT (except they never use square footage of occupancy as a way of calculating cross charges).

    If your interpretation of the phrase
    ‘there is no such thing as a IT project’ is that ‘there is no such thing as a project identified by and sponsored by the IT department’ then I have to agree that indeed it would be a myth, because of course there are.

    However, I think the phrase, in common usage, is meant to confer that if an IT department thinks they can run a project without impacting any other part of the business, or without due consideration for the business rationale, then the IT department are misleading themselves.

  • colinb


    I concur with your explanation of the Facilities recharge process, which is very often mirrored within IT/ IS functions.

    However, their charge usually includes provision of routine refurbishment so the number of “facilities projects” is usually below the management waterline.

    Whereas, a pressing need to upgrade IT infrastructure (due to product sunset dates) is too often regarded as a separate project. (which I would contend is often an IT project).

    I don’t agree though with your final comment because the phrase “there is no such thing as an IT project” is usually stated (and vehemently) by those who do not recognise pure-play IT projects and try to dress them up in false business clothing! So your comment about doing projects without non-IT input does not chime with me.

    Indeed some of the largest non-IT impact (aka disruption) is often associated with IT projects that affect the day-to-day operation of the business.

  • Marny Pigott

    There is a lot of dodging around the words here, I think. Projects are courses of action we undertake and IT is something that used to be called DP (or even EDP.) Sometimes they come together.
    Isn’t Colin saying that IT departments sometimes run a project to effect some hardware, firmware or software change primarily for the ‘benefit’ of the IT installation itself? ‘Benefit’ is not a good choice of word maybe but I mean that IT is the instigator. These projects would generally occur because the hardware is becoming obsolete or the firm/software version is about to become unsupported. Sometimes, though, we even have system development projects for the IT department to deliver some operating or anlysis tool.
    It may well be that the business gets some overflow benefit (if Windows keeps running and support is available, if we replace the hardware to make it easier to update etc) and we may well seek to recover the some or all of the cost from client departments/users in the same way as any organisation passes on its costs. That does not make it a business project per se.
    Doesn’t Colin just want us to be honest about the cost recovery (if we do recover any) instead of hiding it in the payroll enhancements or the new invoicing system build?

  • colinb

    Bingo! Marny’s final sentence sums it up nicely. Maturity is all about honesty and transparency, rather than smoke and mirrors.

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