IT projects have never had a great reputation for successful project delivery – of course, technology has always been complex but it is becoming more and more so with every year that passes. So it is understandable that IT projects are not the easiest to deliver on-time, on-budget and on-scope. Naturally, selecting a competent team helps, as does the right sort of skills, experience and training – even the most junior members of the project team can benefit from a basic PM course such as the APM Project Fundamentals – but remember there are three main areas of project management that are most likely to result in a less than successful outcome to an IT project:

  • Failing to recognise the importance of the end-users – they are the ones who will be using the system, probably on a daily basis so any concerns, requests or requirements of theirs (however seemingly trivial) must be taken into account during the requirements gathering and planning phases.
  • Being too stringent in defining the areas of responsibility of both the project manager and the team – it is not always clear where the boundaries of project management lie so some degree of flexibility and adaptability may be required on certain projects.
  • Sticking too rigidly to a formal methodology and not being prepared to be innovative where there may be some advantage in doing so.

 

If, as a project manager, or member of the project team, you are prepared to do whatever it takes to progress the project to the satisfaction of the client, you just might find that this leads to more successful projects. Naturally, there can be downsides to this approach – allowing changes to requirements and scope to go unchecked can also be a recipe for disaster. But in a properly controlled project environment with a strong change management process in place, one that manages change but doesn’t prevent it, the advantages can be significant.

When project managers become involved in every aspect of the project right from its initial justification, this can also contribute to a more successful outcome. Again you could argue that there are aspects of any project that are simply not the responsibility of the project manager but getting involved (without necessarily taking full responsibility) can give the project manager a better understanding of the business perspective and enable him/her to better judge decisions that have to be taken with respect to the business environment.

IT project teams, in particular, do not always appreciate the value to the business of various components of the project. There can be complex and time-consuming IT tasks in the project that do not always deliver good business value. The business users, conversely, cannot appreciate why seemingly minor features can be so complex to implement. Creating new ways of bridging this divide can enable both sides to reap benefits.

Ultimately, projects can be delivered more successfully by a creative and flexible team that is focussed on the business objectives, understands the value placed by the business on different aspects of the project and is prepared to go the extra mile to achieve what is required.

But how exactly can innovation be incorporated into project management? Here are just some examples:

 

  • Don’t assume the client knows exactly what they want. Question their stated business objective to elicit further information that might help in clarifying what the client really wants to achieve.
  • Try to deliver the system in stages so that the business starts to see benefits early on in the project. This motivates the project team and ensures the client continues to support the project through the subsequent stages to completion.
  • Educate the business to understand the capabilities of the team and what is possible.
  • Educate the project team to focus on business value and to view the project from a business rather than technical perspective.
  • Treat the project plan as a guide not as an inflexible schedule and expect to rework the plan at various points during the project.
  • Establish a no-blame culture but one which actively looks for solutions to problems and implements them as soon as possible.
  • Encourage everyone involved in the project to question decisions and think creatively.
  • Put together a team with complementary skills, both technical and personal, who can be motivated throughout the life of the project. Train the team, where necessary, on appropriate project management courses so that they all work to the same principles.
  • Formal project management methodologies (such as PMP or PRINCE2) are important factors in controlling projects but just be prepared to break the rules every once in a while.