Smart strategies for IT project success

When designing an IT project make sure the recipe includes all the ingredients that foster business adoption, experts say.

Doing that prevents the all too common phenomenon of a runaway project that completely exceeds budget and timelines.

A recent study by IAG Consulting highlights factors commonly responsible for IT project failure, and offers suggestions on countering these.

New Castle, Del.-based IAG offers professional services to define and manage business and software requirements.

Its study was based on a survey of more than 100 large companies.

The survey findings are revealing.

Companies polled saw half of their projects careening out of control – taking 80 per cent longer to complete, and turning out to be 60 per cent more expensive than estimated.

Canadian industry insiders say this is an all too common phenomenon.

Such projects are analogous to nightmarish marathon meetings that lose focus, says John Breakey, president and CEO of Unis Lumin Inc., a provider of technology-based services based in Oakville, Ont.

“I think people like to bite off more than they can chew,” he says. “As the project progresses, new requirements start coming up and people start expanding the scope.”

Breakey says when projects spin out of control quite often the reason is lack of effective business processes and poor leadership, rather than any issue with the technology.

“If you give me a super sports car, but I have no driver training then I’m really wasting the value of the asset.”

The IAG study also emphasizes the vital importance of people and processes to the success of any IT project.

It indicates that the one-third of firms likely to succeed in new IT projects have certain things in common.

These include superior processes, technologies and competent people.

In fact, companies using the best processes stay on budget and on time for an average project of $3 million, the study says.

This contrasts with the other two-thirds with poorly defined project requirements and processes that spend around $5.9 million – on a project originally given a $3 million budget.

“Often people want to do something in one big step and if they miss that step, it’s ker-plunk,” Breakey says. “Maybe smaller steps are a good idea.”

He cautions that IT can often become overly focused on putting the technology into place without being concerned with business outcomes.

Today, he says, it’s vital that CIOs consider all aspects of a project.

“The IT [folk] get lambasted for these big failure stories,” the Unis Lumin chief says. But they “might not be responsible for these failures because it’s a business transformation [issue].”

Poorly defined business requirements can consume 41 per cent of IT project’s budget, according to the IAG Consulting study.

The antidote is that CIOs look to improvements in all areas – people, processes and tools.

One way to ensure better chance of success is to audit project indicators during rollout – forcing a re-do on any requirements not met, the study says.

“Timing and budget are clearly good barometers in the implementation phase,” Breakey says. “In the adoption phase, I’d try to measure use of the system.”

Recognizing the project hasn’t “crossed the finish line” at the end of the implementation phase is the first step, the Unis Lumin CEO adds.

Another step, he says, could be to spend up to six months ensuring people are using the new system.

Adoption coaches could be put into place and follow-up should be conducted until you’re satisfied everyone is using the new system properly.

“If I spend a bunch of money on a great piece of software to manage my salesforce, but only half my sales people are using it, my statistics will be lousy,” Breakey says.

The first step towards building solid requirements and improving your IT project outlook could simply be hiring the right people to do the job.

The IAG Consulting study identifies people as one of three key categories for an elite requirements approach.

“I think you need good tech leaders,” Breakey agrees. Pick the right people for the right skills after determining what your needs are, and make sure you’re representing adoption and business transformation needs.

“The rest is downhill.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Brian Jackson
Brian Jackson
Editorial director of IT World Canada. Covering technology as it applies to business users. Multiple COPA award winner and now judge. Paddles a canoe as much as possible.

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