Lesson #1 From the Virtual Case File Failure

Phil Windley has sussed out the important lesson in the FBI’s recent failed $170 million IT project, the “Virtual Case File”:

[T]he FBI approached this as a single monolithic project. Time and time again, big project[s] fail. I see people making the same mistake in projects I’m familiar with. Iterative approaches can be more disruptive to workflow because they require people adapt to multiple little changes over time rather than one big change sometime way out in the future. Even so, they’re the only way I know how to do projects that work.

(emphasis mine)

Boy, is he right — I can’t count the number of Really Big Projects I’ve seen get sucked down under their own weight. Maybe sometimes that approach works. But more often than not it is a recipe for nothing but transferring large sums of money to consultants — and at the end of the day you’ve got bupkis (just like the FBI).

Incremental! Small! Agile! Is! The! Way! To! Do! It!



February 5, 2005
1:57 pm

Good point, though the IG audit I’m reading right now seems to indicate that they may have tried that as a fallback (but I’m early in the reading). Had they gone incremental to begin with, though, I think you are correct that the project may have gone more smoothly.
There’s also the question of whether the Bureau’s culture is too flawed for lessons to be learned and acted upon, but that’s another matter. It does seem that the failure resulted from a number of things, but they’re the same ones that usually tank IT projects.