Large-scale IT projects can be a very stressful time for everyone involved, from the CIO down. There are plenty of stories out there of these initiatives failing - often after firms have pumped millions of dollars into them - and no-one wants to add to that list.
Indeed, according to The Standish Group, only 29% of IT project implementations are successful, while 19% are considered complete failures. So how do you avoid becoming another bad statistic?
The need for effective change management
The Project Management Institute defines six factors that are essential for an initiative of any kind to be considered a success. These are:
- It's delivered on time
- It's within budget
- It works as designed
- It's adopted by end-users
- Financial stakeholders are satisfied
- Original goals have been met
Achieving all of these can be difficult, especially when there are different teams involved in the project, all with their own priorities and ways of operating. Therefore, it's vital for an effective project management plan to be in place, with a single point of contact to oversee these teams and to direct operations.
It's important for change management to be viewed as a function in itself, and not just as something that can be handled within other teams. Therefore, project managers need to be specially-trained personnel who can take control of the entire process from start to finish. That means if and when any problems arise, everyone knows who to turn to.
6 warning signs your project is headed for failure
Even the best-planned projects can be subject to unexpected problems that may be out of the control of the project management leaders. However, firms that are able to spot the early warning signs of these quickly and take steps to address any issues should be able to change course and avoid a challenge turning into a disaster.
Here are a few key things you need to be on the lookout for.
1. Uninvolved management
All projects need support from the very top, and if your senior personnel aren't bought into the project, this means less oversight and IT teams feeling free to go in their own direction. Often, this may be done to address a specific technical issue, regardless of whether or not it actually meets business goals. Fix this by ensuring the C-suite gets regular updates on the project and both sides are able to ask questions to ensure any decisions are being taken for the right reasons.
2. Changing objectives
Shifting priorities can often derail an IT project. Having to change direction halfway through means wasted time, effort and money as previous work is rendered useless. An important part of preventing this is ensuring the goals of the project are made as specific as possible right at the start. While some change of requirements may be inevitable, the impact of this can be minimized by taking an agile approach to development where progress is reviewed frequently.
3. Technology advances
The longer a project drags on, the greater the risk that by the time it's finished, it's already been rendered obsolete. Technology is always marching on and new developments could mean original plans are no longer effective. An agile approach can again help with this, as it allows you to evaluate the scope of the project frequently and make adjustments. With traditional waterfall methods, once an approach is locked in, it can be very difficult to change course without major re-architecting.
4. Unknown dependency delays
Technical problems can also present hurdles to the success of a project, and one common issue is failing to take into account how various applications and IT infrastructure interact with each other. For example, some parts of a complex project will depend on other elements being completed first, and delays can have significant knock-on effects. According to the PMI, almost a quarter of project failures (23%) are the result of dependency delays. To address this, good project management needs to identify where these potential bottlenecks are early and identify what else could be completed while teams are waiting on crucial prerequisites.
5. Scope creep
Similar to changing requirements, scope creep can quickly lead to budgets and timelines spiraling out of control as various stakeholders develop ideas for new features and functionality, or look to redesign the project to meet new requirements. This means a loss of focus and increases the chances of a complex, overdesigned solution that doesn't meet its original requirements.
The role of the project manager is vital in tackling this - they need to keep a firm grip on the original spec and be clear about when it will be acceptable to change or expand the scope. Importantly, they must also not be afraid to say no if new requests will increase the scope, time or budget beyond what’s reasonable.
6. Unexpected risks
While many common issues can be predicted and planned for in advance, it's the ones you don't see coming that can often have the greater impact - what Donald Rumsfeld memorably referred to as the 'unknown unknowns'. This may be unknown dependencies within your infrastructure you weren't expecting or external factors that impact individual teams.
It's the job of the project manager to ensure there are contingencies in place that can be adapted and revised to any scenario. They must also make sure the potential for these risks is factored into any timelines and budget plans, so firms have the flexibility to cope. After all, it's better to come in earlier than expected and under budget than the other way around.