What do successful IT projects have in common?
The Business is responsible for the success of IT Projects
The thing about IT projects is that they are all fundamentally very similar, they have several phases starting with initiation through to celebrating the outcome at the completion. Most competent Project Managers can recite these in their sleep, so the recipe for success is not just adhering to the process steps; we need to focus in on what makes a great project versus one that limps from crisis to crisis, sometimes ending in total project failure.
We have detailed some points we hope will help ensure your next IT project is a huge success.
1) It’s a business project!
When your project is initiated it must have clear business objectives and its success should be measured in business terms. The Business Case document or Project Charter should identify how the current system or technology is impacting the business – the current state. It should also state how the business will measure the benefits in the new future state when the solution or technology is deployed. If these measurements are not clearly established and in place, the project should not proceed. Project success must be measured by the agreed business outcomes and not just whether the technology or system was deployed on time and on budget.
2) Don’t start the project without establishing a Business Sponsor and Project Steering Group
So we have agreed it’s a business project, therefore logically a business sponsor is essential – the more senior the better, ideally at Executive level. When hard project decisions need to be made, decisions that will impact the business sponsor who should make the call, not the IT project team. Examples could include delaying a project because more testing is required, therefore the flow-on impact to the business customers due to the delay, or a software solution that is missing key functionality on day one, or perhaps a hosted application that has a slower response (latency) that the current in house server-based application.
The project steering group will ideally include several end-users (subject matter experts) to provide perspective and real-time feedback to the whole project team about the solution meeting or not meeting end-user functionality needs throughout the project. They should have the authority to push back if they see fundamental flaws in a solution and must be empowered to speak up for the business user base. E.g. a new phone system being implemented, ideally the business receptionist would have key input into call flow management, or a new CRM project; involving a senior salesperson would be critical to understanding whether it’s workable for the sales team on a daily basis.
“When hard project decisions need to be made, decisions that will impact the business sponsor who should make the call, not the IT project team ….. The project steering group will ideally include several end-users (subject matter experts) to provide perspective and real-time feedback ….. They should have the authority to push back if they see fundamental flaws in a solution and must be empowered to speak up for the business user base.”
3) Give time and priority to the critical parts of the project
For most projects, there will be several significant risks identified upfront. These risks should have a high priority and be at the forefront of the minds of the project team from day one. If an application integration is a critical risk to the project or potentially low latency associated with a WAN for an application to be effective, these potential issues should be tackled early, options and workarounds identified and tested rather than having them cripple or derail the project at the later user testing phase or cause unacceptable go live delays.
4) Appoint a Change Manager early
Change Management can be the difference between success and failure. With any project with a go-live date set, if the business and users are not prepared and trained, the project implementation may succeed but the user perception of the project may be a fail. A dedicated change manager will communicate with the users through the project – sell them the benefits of the new systems, process changes and develop training courses for them. Successful change management will ensure end users are prepared for the new technology, new processes and will ensure end-user buy into the change.
5) Benefits Realisation makes sense!
So, the project is being wound up, the technology or solution has been implemented and the users are happy. That’s generally a tick and the project team disband or moves to another project. But the big question remains, has the project delivered to the business goals stated in the business case? Appointing a team member to review the business case against the delivered benefits will help ensure business lessons are learned and therefore improve future business cases. If, for example, the business case was approved on the basis three staff members would be redeployed that’s easy to measure. The staff have been redeployed or they are still in their old roles. Often, benefits take time to be realised, sometimes months, years even, but they should be measured and reported to ensure constant Business Case improvement.
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