Poor Execution Is Still What’s Screwing Up IT

Poor Execution Is Still What’s Screwing Up IT

No matter what the size of an organisation, there are two things you can be confident of: it has ambitious ideas when it comes to IT project planning, and it very often fails to realise them.

I’ve already written about one finding from the Sage SME Business Sentiment Index: that businesses of all sizes favour purchasing software licences over using cloud-based solutions. That finding was emblematic of a broader trend evident in the study (based on a demographically representative group of 611 businesses): there’s a large gap between what a business thinks is a good idea and what it actually does in practice.

That trend remains consistent regardless of whether the organisation is classified as micro (under 5 employees), small (5-19 employees), medium (20-199 employees) or large (200-999 employees). There’s a clear pattern: large organisations are more likely to follow through than smaller ones, but because the majority of local companies fall into the micro or small categories, the overwhelming trend is towards failing to get stuff done.

Take having a formal written business plan as an example. While 76% of those surveyed believe this is critical, just 40% have done so in the last year, and only 20% sought expert advice before doing so. That average conceals some major variations: for micro businesses, 75% say planning is critical but just 37% have implemented a plan in the last year. For small business, the same figures are 78% and 49%; for medium, 90% and 70%; and for large, 94% and 83%. While the large group has a much higher execution rate, there’s still one in five which doesn’t.

The same variation is seen in yearly reviews. 55% of micro businesses agreed these were critical, but just 22% had written and implemented those reviews. Large business sees them as even more important (92%), but fails at a similar rate, with just 57% getting it done.

And that pattern of ambition getting a nasty slap from reality is reflected in IT-specific planning too. 59% of small businesses agree that an integrated suit of apps would make management easier, but only 30% have such a system. Large businesses see that as even more important, but only 61% have some level of integration.

The one area where there is major variation is in ranking priorities. Asked what their top 3 priorities were, this is what came up:

Micro: technology, marketing, web presence
Small: employee training, marketing, recruitment of staff
Medium: employee training, finding suitable premises, recruitment of staff
Large: employee training, technology, recruitment of staff

Given their small size and lack of sophistication, it’s not entirely surprising that micro businesses have such a different set of priorities.
However, I can’t help but suspect that the emphasis on training is also tied in to the better ability of larger firms to execute on their plans. Passing processes on to others forces you to document them, and documenting them gives you a chance to refine them.

That’s the overall trend, but as ever I’m curious about where Lifehacker readers fit in:

Feel free to expand on the reason for your selection in the comments.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


  • I manage systems for a highly regulated division of a healthcare company & so documentation and training are paramount. What is interesting is that since our corporate IT department cannot easily segment the added “bells and whistles” that are needed by my smaller business unit, other larger (but less regulated) divisions in the company are now seeing & recognizing the advantages that go with a more structure approach to business planning, documentation and training in IT.

  • I don’t see any real problem – recognizing something as important or nice in theory is separate from implementing it in reality.

    It certainly is useful to have an integrated suite of applications that work well together. Alas, other factors like ‘part of the suite being far worse than competing products’ and ‘avoiding vendor lock-in’ also have their effect.

    Our nice, modern database system integrates beautifully with MS office and IE. The downside is, of course, that you can only access it with IE. I’d choose something that’s loosely compatible with everything over tightly integrated with one specific product.

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