Black swan.

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One out of every Six IT projects is identified as a “black swan” project.   A “black swan” project was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and desribes “high impact events that are rare and unpredictable but in retrospect seem not so improbable.”

Large IT projects are staples in companies and government.  John Seddon (Managing Director at Vanguard Consulting) predicted the demise of the NHS computer system in 2004.  He describes (IT) projects as “the sale of the plausible to the gullible.”

Is John Seddon the Nostradamus of IT projects?

I don’t believe so, but he understand that most IT projects fail because they lack the fundamentals to succeed. Copying and lack of knowledge and chief among them.

W. Edwards Deming taught us long ago that copying is never a good idea.  The problem with copying is that you never know if you have the same problems as the person you are copying.  All systems have different problems and issues assuming that your organization has the same problem can be costly.  Also, many times there is no evidence to support the copying just made up numbers or broad statements.

Closely related to copying is lack of knowledge.  IF management understood their organizations as systems, they would not need to copy.  Further, they often discover that they don’t require large IT projects.

Getting knowledge and addressing the flow of work before purchasing IT seems back wards to some.  They instead start with a plan or strategy or perceived problem that doesn’t address the real systemic problems in the design and management of work.  The bottom-line is large IT projects with this approach don’t require large IT projects – never mind Black swans.

The best way to get knowledge is to study your organization as a system.  Understanding customer purpose and demands placed on our systems gives great clarity to what matters.  Designing systems to support customers by improving flow without IT helps us determine what if any IT is needed.  IF IT can help you may find that it is not a large project with risks – a white swan instead.

Tripp Babbitt is a speaker, blogger and consultant to service industry (private and public).  His organization helps executives find a better way to make the work work.  Read his articles at Quality Digest and his column for  Learn more about the Vanguard Method for service organizations.  Reach him on Twitter at LinkedIn at

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