Top 10 Ways To Keep Your Project On Track

Keeping Projects On Track

A number of articles have either dropped in my Office 365 inbox this week, or on various social media feeds, each of them detailing a list of the reasons why IT Projects fail.That’s a rather negative way to approach it. The best sports teams didn’t build success by checking out why other teams were losing – they focussed on winning. You should too. You can certainly learn from the mistakes of others (and yourself) but instead of dwelling on the A to Z of failures, how about championing the S to L of what happens when IT projects are SUCCESSFUL.

S – is for Skills

U – is for Understanding

C – is for Communication (and clarity)

C – is for Change Leadership

E – is for Efficient Execution

S – is for Systems

S – is for Supervision

F – is for Fact-Rooted analysis

U – is for User input

L – is for Learn

Usually, upon reflection, the road to IT project triumph can be broken down into these ten fairly simple steps.

1. Skills

It is surely your greatest responsibility to ensure that your team members have the necessary skills for the project you’re expecting them to contribute to – you can include any necessary education in the overall project schedule – but you should also actively seek to recruit appropriately skilled personnel both internally and when recruiting externally. Successful outcomes will not be achieved without sufficiently skilled personnel.

2. Understanding

Understand it all. The project, outcome expectations, your capacity, your shortfalls. Make sure everyone involved understands it all too! Understanding and trust between stakeholders and your Project Management Office is key to a successful outcome, especially the more disparately located stakeholders are. Often key stakeholders are in different buildings or even countries – understanding each of their motivations will help both measure success and speed up go/no go decision junctions.

** HERE’S AN IDEA: Engineer initiatives to create communication opportunities with stakeholders. Sessions arranged to gather stakeholder input are a great way to do this, at the outset especially, but also during the project lifecycle.

3. Communication

Breakdown in communication is amongst the most cited reasons for IT projects wandering “off-piste”. Regular and, more importantly, appropriate contact between all stakeholders is key. Basic business disciplines make a huge difference too like agendas, minutes, delegated action points and deadlines. Frequent status reports that are attention grabbing, compelling and relevant, will keep key users, executives and vendors alike on board and enthused.

4. Change Leadership

Projects change. Unpredictability is ironically one of the most predictable aspects of your IT project. Size, scope, user needs, current technology, business cases, required outcomes, it’s all susceptible to change throughout the project lifecycle. By managing change you reduce disruption and project value leakage. By leading your project through change you could actually yield better results than you’d originally anticipated.

Practice widening the gap for effective thinking between project changing stimulus and your response to it by making sure your understanding of the project’s key outcomes is clear. The book “Beyond Change Management: How to Achieve Breakthrough Results Through Conscious Change Leadership” is a cracking read for inspiration. Proactively manage changing objectives and goals, anticipate risks, and co-ordinate your finance and tech teams’ skill sets to allow for measurement and governance of performance.

5. Efficient Execution

And this starts with proper project planning and direction … remember the rule with the “p”s … proper planning prevents poor performance – live that rule. The right people doing the right thing at the right time – simple! Clear direction, clear instruction, clear objectives … make it all as clear as you can – you can’t see the way through opaque. Plan the work, work the plan is an old cliché but one which should be burned on a project manager’s soul.

6. Systems

Your IT project is all about systems right? Servers, networks … systems! But project success depends more upon methods and tools and the disciplines in this “S to L” of successful projects than it does on software and hardware. More than half of IT project failures are attributed to a project management breakdown of some kind, whereas just a handful are down to actual technical challenges.

Did you ever read “Improving IT Project Outcomes by Systematically Managing and Hedging Risk”? It’s a few years old now but in their 2009 IDC report Dana Wiklund and Joseph Pucciarell assert that a quarter of IT projects completely and utterly fail and roughly the same amount don’t realise a ROI. It’s the human systems rather than the blinking lights that cause most IT project fails.

7. Supervision

It’s all about governance and transparency. KPIs, SLAs and outcomes identified and agreed to by everyone involved at the outset will keep your IT project on the rails. Amazingly though, a large number of IT projects leak value simply because no-one is watching them. Your IT project is like crossing the road. Sure you must look both ways at the kerbside but you have to keep looking left and right and listening too till you get to the other side otherwise you’ll get hit by a bus.

8. Fact-Rooted Analysis

Your IT project will generate a lot of data during that lifecycle. That data is the heartbeat of your project – listen to it regularly. By turning data into reportable, understandable information you take away the guesswork and mitigate potential for risk. Quantifiable and continuous fact-rooted analysis – at your fingertips by request – can be the difference between success and failure.

9. User Input

All over, in every industry, people “at the coal face” are complaining about the way the tools that they have to do their job were designed with little or no consultation with them. It’s crazy! Don’t tell your finance guys, but the end user is the key stakeholder in any IT project.

The person who sits at a desk punching in the “lifeblood of your organisation” data day after day, the customer who accesses your product via your website, the client who enjoys a seamless service thanks to the efficiencies created by your project … their input based on these unique experiences is vital. Harvest it! You will learn some amazing insights. And that brings me nicely to…

10. Learn

Never stop. Learn from your mistakes and those of others, learn from industry peers and those in other sectors, learn from end user input and stake holder expectations. One of my favourite Project Managers has a SpongeBob Squarepants toy on his desk. I’d always assumed it was because his kids loved that show but he recently told me that it was because he wanted a constant reminder of the qualities of a sponge for soaking up information. Be a sponge!

The S to L of SUCCESSFUL. If it sounds simple, it’s because it is. Sort of. Except, of course, for the fact that behind each of the ten points above there lies a lot of hard work and hard earned experience – sometimes it’s like herding cats – but the gains are there to be won. Just don’t start with a list of why projects fail.

Andrew Buxton

Andrew Buxton is Business Development Director and also a co-founder of Stoneseed. He has more than 20 years' IT industry experience, working with medium and large organisations designing Intelligent IT sourcing models. Andrew works directly with CIOs to help them address critical IT needs, creating business framework models for change to balance the delivery of key IT services with on-going budget challenges.