IBM Systems Lab Services

How to make sure your IT project succeeds

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The sad reality is that most IT projects fail, far exceed budget or are completed well behind schedule. As CIO reported in 2016, 55 percent of IT professionals say they’ve had a project outright fail. But why?

We need to understand why so that we can figure out how to improve the success rate.

In my experience, IT project success hinges on three critical factors:

  • Context (the why)
  • Content (the what)
  • Collaboration (the who, when, where and how)

How you handle these factors can determine how likely your next project is to succeed.

Context: The why

Why are you doing the IT project in the first place? The answer to this question should originate from a business context. IT projects are business projects, and business projects are IT projects. Therefore, treat IT projects like business projects.

Who is the business sponsor and owner? Who from the business owns the data? Who from IT will steward the data?

In my previous post, I talked about the importance of aligning IT with business priorities and forming a partnership between these groups in your organization. That partnership begins with setting business strategy, continues with project implementation and includes ongoing business process support. The project’s business case provides a contextual cornerstone and should include any IT components. If the project is primarily IT infrastructure, the business case should demonstrate support for overall business objectives and imperatives. Context also includes project goals, basic timeline and milestones as well as business risk assessment. Understanding context is the first step to project success.

Content: The what

Once you understand why an IT project needs to occur, it’s important to understand what needs to happen within the project. This begins with gathering requirements. Design thinking is an approach that can help you identify and prioritize user requirements. However, you also need a requirement management process. This prevents scope creep and helps set appropriate acceptance criteria, which in turn helps define the testing requirements.

Users’ functional and non-functional requirements, which emerge from design thinking and other facets of your requirement gathering process, will guide the solution, data and technology architectures. Those should help determine any technology procurement requirements. Integration and migration requirements also need to be determined as part of defining the content of your IT project.

Collaboration: The who, when, where and how

Now you know what you need to do and why, but if you don’t work as a team your project is likely to struggle. Having a common vision among business, IT, finance and other stakeholders certainly improves your chances for success.

Business and IT governance, including integrated project and change management efforts, can help define roles, guiding principles and policies to boost your team’s efficiency and collaboration. Project teams should have business and IT members. Together they will refine project delivery time estimates. They also need to collaborate to project the desired business outcomes and use processes to monitor and assess the project’s health.

Careful consideration should be given to metrics, analytics of those metrics and employee incentives. You want to make sure that business and IT team members have incentives that encourage collaboration rather than undermine it.

Agile: Putting all the pieces together

I am a huge proponent of agile methodology because it can help companies quickly and efficiently address all three of these critical factors: context, content and collaboration.

The first agile principle is to begin with clarity about the outcome. This principle can help you to master project context by having a focus in mind from the start. The second principle is to strive for viability, not perfection. This principle can help you formulate a plan for the content of your project that follows the ideate-discover-deliver pattern. Don’t let pursuit of perfection interfere with providing incremental, practical milestones that can be adapted as business requirements and market dynamics change. The third principle is to encourage self-direction and participation so that collaboration yields more fruit.

I wish you the best of luck on your next project! If you’re looking to consult with an experienced IT project professional, don’t hesitate to reach out to IBM Systems Lab Services. IBM Systems Lab Services consultants perform onsite IT infrastructure services, helping clients to solve their toughest business challenges. Email us today.

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