Failure-proof IT projects rely on the basics

IT project success is quite possible if you don't forget the basics, such as scope, leadership, management and people, says project management consultant Chris Pope.

The reason most projects fail is not because of some "big hairy problem". They fail because the basics have been neglected, Pope told the audience at the CIO conference, held in Auckland last week.

Pope, director of the Valde Group and group IT program manager at Air New Zealand, listed ten ways to "failure-proof" IT projects:

-- Confirm the project is aligned with organizational strategy.

"Ask yourself: are the deliverables of the project aligned with the direction of the company?"

-- Establish strong project governance structures, and make sure the business is engaged -- and that the right people are on the steering committee.

-- Clearly define the project.

Make sure all stakeholders know their roles, as well as the goals and objectives of the project, says Pope. There is usually a "honeymoon period" at the beginning of a project when everybody is excited and disagreements seem far away, he says. But then, six months down the track, things can get ugly unless roles, goals and expectations of the project were clearly articulated at the start.

-- Identify the appropriate success measures and strategy to maximize business benefits.

The project should be about delivering the benefits, not about the process, says Pope. Also, try to be clear on when the project is over; establish how to define when it is finished, and how to realize and maintain the benefits, he says.

-- Plan it before you do it.

"'She'll be right' is not a project management strategy," says Pope. He also recommends standing up to pressure from above to "cut the process, just do it!" That attitude, and the risk of making premature decisions, could potentially cost the company millions, he says.

In addition, Pope strongly recommends involving stakeholders, for example, the marketing people who have requested the project or the people "at the coalface", who are meant to reap the benefits of the project.

-- Learn to love risk-identification.

Reward people who identify risks early and don't ignore problems, says Pope. Problems don't tend to go away just because they are ignored, he says.

-- Get a balanced team with the right skills for the job.

Different personality types are essential. You need someone on the team who has the courage to ask the tough questions, he says.

-- Make sure every meeting has a clear purpose and an outcome.

If the person who calls the meeting can't tell you why the meeting is needed, and what you will get out if it, do something else instead, says Pope. "Don't waste people's time."

-- Use consultants effectively.

Define how consultants add value to the project, says Pope.

And lastly,

-- Communicate!

It is better to over-communicate than to not involve stakeholders, says Pope, but he warns about "waffle words". "If someone is not clearly communicating back to you that means he or she either doesn't know what's going on or doesn't want you to know," he says.

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