6 Ways to Avoid a Project Failure
If you work in IT, you have likely heard of (or experienced) a horror story related to a complex software implementation, ranging from the daily headaches to the loss of business. But the fact is that most organizations do not anticipate project failure. Instead, they plan for success, governed by budget, next step deliverables, executive expectations, and go-live deadlines. Heads-down to the task at hand, the project manager and team have little visibility and less control over potential risks within the project – until it’s too late.
Not unlike the evolution of business process reengineering, we are discovering that there is a better way to plan for and prevent failure. It begins with a blueprint of strategic project assurance at critical points in the implementation project’s evolution. It establishes clear understanding of expectations among all people involved – from the executives, to the business and IT management, to vendor partners and end-users.
Over the years, countless papers and articles have been written on software implementation project success rates and why projects fail. Interestingly enough, the reasons that projects fail are the same today as they were ten years ago: lack of top management commitment, unrealistic expectations, poor requirements definition, improper package selection, gaps between software and business requirements, inadequate resources, underestimating time and cost, poor project management, lack of methodology, underestimating impact of change, lack of training and education, and last, but not least, poor communication.
In short, projects will continue to fail due to human factors. This is especially true for businesses today where system implementations may cross many internal and external organizational boundaries. The question is this: how can we improve the odds for implementation success if we continue to approach systems implementation as we have in the past?
The need for project assurance
One way to avoid the system implementation mistakes of the past is to adopt a modern view of project assurance methodology. Project assurance is about making sure that projects are delivered on time, on-budget, and with client acceptance. Having project assurance as part of a large-scale business system implementation helps you:
- control/reduce project costs
- ensure milestones are met
- minimize surprises
- provide objective analysis
- provide peace of mind and trust among executives and project team members
Project Assurance methodologies, such as Collaborative Intervention, are based on the following principles or best practices:
- Identify the real issues. At the leadership level, you need to develop an executive dialog that allows business and organizational issues to be identified and analyzed with clarity and without emotion. Continue this dialog throughout the implementation process. Remove organizational barriers both within the organization and with third-party vendors. All parties should be aligned with the common goal of project success.
- Set realistic time frames. Don’t rely on the existing schedule. Many organizations will set overly optimistic go-live dates in spite of the realities and limitations of the actual project. For example, the design phase extends ... but the time line doesn’t. You must monitor project progress throughout the implementation and start discussions regarding key project dates early in the project’s lifecycle to avoid downstream impacts.
- Align the work streams. You need to identify, align and continuously monitor work streams to ensure smooth progress throughout the organization. Understand dependencies between work streams during project plan development to ensure proper resource allocations and project time frames. Continue to monitor the interdependencies throughout the project.
- Look beyond the indicators. Contrary to popular opinion, green may actually be red. Realistic monitoring and analysis of progress of the implementation can show that even though all project management indicators are green, warning signs indicate endangered components. If indicators are only addressing past phases, but not addressing readiness for upcoming project tasks and activities, they are definitely trailing indicators and not trustworthy predictions of the future.
- Manage the expectations. Critical to maintaining control of the project, you need to manage the confluence of overly optimistic go-live dates against outside influences and interdependencies, such as available resources and realistic expectations. Set realistic expectations upfront and keep expectations current in the mind of project team members so that they don’t lose sight of the forest while maneuvering around a tree.
- Seek objectivity. Assessments conducted by an outside expert add both value to the project implementation and protection against the high cost of failure. Expertise delivers the know-how and the objective oversight needed to overcome organizational roadblocks. It also provides you with peace of mind. Assessments should be conducted by an executive project manager or software implementation expert who has managed enough projects successfully to know how to recognize subtle indicators, intervene to accommodate the situation, and adjust expectations accordingly.
At the end of the day, having a project assurance methodology gives you the power to go beyond traditional project management barriers and gives you the answers you need to assure project success. It helps you to identify and resolve the strategic, tactical and intangible issues – and manage the human factors – before issues become insurmountable. And best of all, project assurance gives you (and everyone else involved) peace of mind that the project is on the right track.
Rob Prinzo is founder and CEO of The Prinzo Group, a knowledge consulting firm, and the author of “No Wishing Required: The Business Case for Project Assurance.”