IT Projects Failures - Part II: Remedies
From the discussion and stats shared in the previous article, we can deduce that below-mentioned areas are to be given much consideration in order to ensure smooth-sailing of IT projects:
- Scope Definition
- Timelines & Planning
- Technical Challenges/Complexities
- Team Management
- Unforeseen circumstances
Scope Definition is the very foundation of a whole IT project. As is evident from the facts in the previous article, we know that nearly 45% of stakeholders admit they’re unclear on the business objectives of their IT projects. This puts some serious questions upon the way scope discovery is done and agreed upon for IT projects. What factors are to be considered, therefore, while drafting a scope of a project? Here is a simple tip by Louis Fried:
“Don’t do anything you don’t have to do.”
Following this ideology is vital for projects of any size. The Project management needs to ensure that only required elements are made part of the scope. Often, while preparing the scope certain redundant elements called “scope creep” are made part of it to make it look attractive. In the longer run however they may become a source of under-performance; considering all that we have in scope in term of deliverables also needs to be executed and completed. Therefore all that is added in the scope has to be aligned with customer expectations only. In a nut sheet, “Not much, not less” should be the strategy while defining scope of any IT project. Let’s not make effort to make scope as detailed as we can to make it look like a mega project because at the end of the day successful completion is what matters and not scope itself.
Timelines & Planning
Let’s start the discussion on planning with a noteworthy quote from Stephen Covey:
“All things are created twice; first mentally; then physically. The key to creativity is to begin with the end in mind, with a vision and a blue print of the desired result.”
It clearly shows how thorough you have to be while planning. Unless you have figured out all the uncertainties with regards to your end goal–successful delivery of the project–you will not be able to make a workable plan. Involving all the stakeholders is definitely the key. People who have done it before or have similar experience can help formulate a plan that is more “real” and practically doable. Maticulous planning can create a comprehensive yet realistic roadmap toward the successful delivery of the project. If the roadmap is not well-conceived, you have no guarantee to reach your destination. Another important aspects of the planning is it should have flexibility to change according to the changing requirements. A good line from Swiss army manual says the same:
“When the territory and the map disagree, believe in the territory.”
Timelines are also associated with the plan. The most important point about timelines is they should be real and practical. The moment an organization starts ignoring the impact of having practical timelines is the moment they start losing their grip on the projects. As mentioned by Edwards, Butler, Hill, and Russell:
“You may con a person into committing to an unreasonable deadline, but you cannot bully them into meeting it.”
When the client’s requirements are flexed and the pressure is coming down onto the delivery team, it is important for the management to set new (and realistic) deadlines and that those are communicated to the client as well. It is important not to pressure your delivery team too much as it will lead only to frustration, and human errors that are product of a rushed delivery.
More often than not, there is no actual need for the blame go around and it is because of the complexity of the project that the project is not sailing smoothly. There are certain IT projects that inherently come with challenging complexities, even when the scope is properly defined and thorough planning is done. The key here is to remain consistent and not be bothered by the temporary setbacks caused by the technical complexities of the project. The close supervision by the management team with a well-structured reporting hierarchy plays a very vital role in the success of the project since challenges such as these are most likely to impact cost and time.
“If an IT project works the first time, it was a very small and simple project.”
Cornelius Fitchner’s quote above clarifies that large IT projects are expected to be inherently complex and challenging. However, it does not necessarily mean that they will fail. Proper handling ensured by thorough communication, effective reporting and having an expert team can help complete the project without incident.
Another important factor contributing to the failures of the IT projects is the project team and its management. There are two factors important with respect to teams. Firstly, they have to be competent enough to deliver the project, and secondly, sound communication and reporting channels need to be made available to all the members. While the competency is something that can be bought off the shelf, team management is something that has a dynamic nature and needs to be applied as per requirements. A very good quote by Henry L. Gantt describes some useful facts:
“Whatever we do must be in accord with human nature. We cannot drive people; we must direct their development. The general policy of the past has been to drive; but the era of force must give way to the era of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and lead, to the advantage of all concerned.”
The way teams are developed within the project, the process of their reporting, parallel and vertical communication flows are all important contributors to a successful project delivery. A good project manager would ensure harmony among the team and resources. Cornelius Fitchner views indicates how teams are important in any project:
“The P in PM is as much about ‘people management’ as it is about ‘project management’.”
Last, but not the least, are unforeseen circumstances; we can’t ignore this factor as it also contributes to failures in the IT projects history. Often, these unforeseen circumstances can single-handedly derail an otherwise perfect delivery-in-progress. These circumstances vary from technical, political, social, and legal to territorial in nature. Since these factors are usually unforeseeable and hence uncontrollable, consideration should be given on to how ‘mitigate’ their impact as opposed to eliminating them altogether. Some of these are justifiable under the project delivery as they are define under the Force Majeure clause. However the rest are challenges that need to be handled with superior levels of consistency, hard work and devotion. Good reporting within the project and to the client again are the vital factors in ensuring smooth sailing.
This ends our discussion on the IT project management failure reasons and possible ways to minimize them. However one key note here is worth mentioning. The status reporting should surround the whole project like veins in the body. Often issues arise from lack of communication and issues that are initially deemed as show-stoppers are resolved just by gathering all the relevant teams and other stakeholders and discussing the issue together. Hence the most important ingredient of a project success is to ensure everybody within the team, along with the internal and external stakeholders, are on the same page in both good and bad times.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Systems Limited, or any other entity related to Systems Limited.