We all know that large IT projects are often bound to fail or end up consuming enormous resources.
Furthermore, the more ambitious the project, the higher risks. So, what can we do to avoid costly mistakes?
First, we must realize that this is a global challenge. Statistics published by the Standish Group in their annual report reveal the scale of the problem (see references below). Less than one-third of IT projects are successful. The definition of successful is that the project fully met deadlines, budget, and functional requirements.
Nearly a half of all projects (48%) are completed, but don’t meet the above requirements and end up being too expensive, drawn-out, or offer less functionality than originally planned. Moreover, a frightening 23% of projects are abandoned during their execution. These figures should be enough of a motivator for anyone to start looking for ways to mitigate risks and increase the chances for success.
A big project is very much like a long and often exhausting journey. Remember the race to the South Pole? Amundsen won because he planned carefully, brought the right team and equipment and was an outstanding leader himself. He had no time to wait for help, so he made the best use of his existing resources. Planning is a treasured skill to learn in business, too.
Here are seven key Points for Project Planning based on my practical project management experience:
1. Place Greater Focus on Clear Business Requirements
High-quality Business Analysis lies at the core of project success. Poorly defined requirements lead to overlooked customer needs and missed deadlines, according to the Business Analysis Benchmark Report.
Experts advise treating business requirements as a process rather than filling out a template or creating a document. Ask for customer feedback constantly to check on the requirements to make sure they align with the business goals by performing requirements traceability. Trace requirements to scope, design, and testing to ensure requirements are not dropped or missed.
2. Set Realistic Deadlines
The ability to set realistic deadlines largely depends on the previous point of ensuring requirements are understood and traceable. Only when you have clearly defined requirements and scope of work, will your expectations of the business solution be realistic. Clear expectations and common understanding of the business solution ensure that resources can estimate the effort to build the business solution more accurately. What’s important is not to overpromise. Performing analysis on records of similar projects and employee timesheet data assist in creating realistic estimates and deadlines.
You may need to amend or revise the business solution design as the project moves forward. Additionally, the resources necessary to build and deploy the updated business solution may change. Estimate to complete tasks will drive new deadlines. Managing change on a project is critical to keeping the project moving forward quickly. Changes that are not addressed and managed could send the project out of control.
3. Build a Solid Team
People are everything. If you are heading out to the South Pole, you will need the best-experienced people next to you. The same applies to a large project. Pick competent staff and get them all involved in planning and executing. Keeping your team motivated is essential.
Don’t count too much on the individual skill as teamwork and collaboration are also important. Whatever it takes, you need to have experienced leaders to bring your team together.
4. Communicate Wisely
Efficient communication is critical on every level. First, make sure that your product owners and business analysts have good contact with the customer, understand the customer’s needs thoroughly and actively manage the customer’s expectations on the business solution.
Second, establish efficient communication inside your project team. Frequent status meetings are a must. Their goal is not only to learn about the project progress but also identify problems, deal with conflicts and coach your team. These practices will contribute to better collaboration.
Make sure you know where to stop so that meetings do not turn into an all day event. Status meetings that as a half an hour to one hour is typically sufficient with a well thought out agenda.
5. Executive and Sponsor Support
It all starts with the executives and sponsors. If the executives and sponsors are not engaged in a project and show no interest in it, it can be reasonably anticipated that your project will have difficulties. If it becomes increasingly clear that the plan lacks support, employee motivation drops dramatically as a result.
With strong executive and sponsor support to assist in identifying and mitigating risks, allocate or acquire resources and skill sets as required, and consistent oversight at every stage of the project will result in a greater success rate for large projects.
6. The Agile Methodology
Experience shows that smaller projects have better chances for success than large ones. Breaking down a large project into smaller manageable parts does the trick. Try aiming for smaller milestones and shorter development sprints. Potentially achieve both with an Agile methodology.
According to the statistics gathered by the Standish Group, Agile projects succeed three times more often than projects with a traditional methodology like Waterfall although these results are disputed due to the definition of project success used in the study it is widely defined. Agile can help manage customer expectations by continuously delivery of working product and validating the business solution with your customers.
7. Keep Your Finger on The Pulse
On every stage of the project, it is essential to track your progress and know how you are performing. You can choose out of plenty of tools that allow you to view spent and remaining resources, and report on them.
There’s no need to use broad and complex systems such as Microsoft Project that require much effort and time to configure. Opt for a simple but functional timesheet software, such as actiTIME. It can be a good choice to set up budgets, manage user rates, and track spent hours. This way you will always be alert and able to plan.
The success of a large-scale project is defined by multiple factors. To ensure that your project is delivered on time and budget, you would have to build the process carefully, starting from high-quality business analysis and accurate estimates.
Prepare well for your journey by picking a strong team and encourage them to communicate. Try to win the management’s support and follow the agile principles. Track your progress regarding work done and time spent with the help of a handy tool.
Mountain Group – Agile Succeeds Three Times More Often Than Waterfall – http://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/blog/agile-succeeds-three-times-more-often-than-waterfall
IT Success and Failure — http://www.cafe-encounter.net/p1183/it-success-and-failure-the-chaos-report-factors
The Standish Group CHAOS Report Success Factors – Standish Group Chaos Reports Revisited – https://theagileexecutive.com/tag/the-standish-group/
Success to Standish is Failure in Agile – https://tobeagile.com/2017/02/15/success-to-standish-is-failure-in-agile/