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De-Escalating IT Projects: The DMM Model

Taming runaway Information Technology (IT) projects is a challenge that most organizations have faced and that managers continue to wrestle with. These are projects that grossly exceed their planned budgets and schedules, often by a factor of 2--3 fold or greater. Many end in failure; failure not only in the sense of budget or schedule, but in terms of delivered functionality as well.

Runaway projects are frequently the result of escalating commitment to a failing course of action, a phenomenon that occurs when investments fail to work out as envisioned and decision-makers compound the problem by persisting irrationally. Keil, Mann, and Rai reported that 30--40% of IT projects exhibit some degree of escalation. To break the escalation cycle, de-escalation of commitment to the failing course of action must occur so that valuable resources can be channeled into more productive use. But, making de-escalation happen is neither easy nor intuitive.

This article briefly examines three approaches that have been suggested for managing de-escalation. By combining elements from the three approaches, we introduce a de-escalation management maturity (DMM) model that provides a useful framework for improving practice.

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