Tips to prevent 'cooked lobster' IT failures

This blog assumes that organizational, collaboration, and communication issues are a key driver of success and failure on technology projects. Here are tips to help achieve success.
Written by Michael Krigsman, Contributor

My general analytic perspective assumes that organizational, collaboration, and communication issues are a key driver of success and failure on technology-enabled business transformation projects. This focus leads to frequent discussion of non-technical topics such as change management, the IT Devil's Triangle, and similar matters.

A post titled Root causes of success of technology projects, by organizational development specialist, Nick Heap, offers non-technical ideas for running better IT projects. Although perhaps tempting to consider these issues "obvious" and not worthy of attention, in fact there is a subtlety that most people will miss.

Here are Nick's tips to help prevent your project from failing like a lobster dropped into boiling water:

The root causes of success are "soft". They are about the management of the project.

  1. Arrive at the contract between supplier and customer via exploration, testing, conversation and dialogue. This builds mutual trust.
  2. Broadcast your successes as you go.
  3. Communication is critical for the success of projects. To do it well enough takes time, imagination, thought and planning.
  4. Create a strong and supportive multifunctional team that meets regularly and talks openly. If possible make sure the core team is small.
  5. Commitment from everyone involved is crucial. This takes time and frequent and detailed conversations.
  6. Engage with the key people very early on in the project. Involve everybody as it progresses but encourage them to keep things simple and focus their energy.
  7. Find outstanding people, they exponentially increase your chances of rapid progress.
  8. Focus on getting the job done and disregard cultural, hierarchical or bureaucratic barriers. Make and use informal contacts to get things done.
  9. Give people the opportunity to learn about and test the system before it goes live.
  10. Have a champion or champions for the project. Make sure they always know what is going on.
  11. Have a clear, agreed and intrinsically meaningful goal for the project. This is worth the time and detailed discussions it takes.
  12. Have a skilled and experienced project manager with the authority to manage the project.
  13. Have resource limits and deadlines that make people use their imagination to meet the goal.
  14. Have some limited margin for requirements that change, as people understand more clearly what the project requires. See change as inevitable and an opportunity to be smarter.
  15. IT may have the idea but it essential that the business sees the benefits and owns the project.
  16. Learn rapidly from successes and problems. Use your learning for the present project and later ones.
  17. Make sure you get buy in from everybody involved by actively listening to and responding to their concerns and suggestions.
  18. Maintain constant and open dialogue between all the stakeholders in the project.
  19. Test concepts in a small way by demonstrating them first.
  20. Make sure everybody knows what their role in the project is and how their job will contribute to the success of the project.
  21. Define the scope of the project early and resist project creep.

Of course, successful projects culminate from many factors relating to people, process, and so on. Although a mere list will not create success, reminders can be helpful. To make best use of these tips, dispassionately compare each point to your own project and seek out discrepancies.

Advice for enterprise buyers: Although lack of insight is a killer, checklists can help your team identify common traps, and provide a reference against which you can measure, and evaluate, your project. Although dispassionate evaluation is difficult, senior management must cultivate this skill, both in themselves and in the project team -- it is truly a critical success factor.

Photo by Michael Krigsman. Don't fall prey to cooked lobster IT failures.

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