Four elements are crucial and common in all successful IT projects.

Four Vital Components for IT Project Success

Although IT projects (and other types of business projects) may end up failing for a variety of causes, four elements are crucial and common in all successful projects. Both experience and research have demonstrated that incorporating all of these ingredients significantly increases the odds of success, while the lack of even one dramatically ups the risk of project failure.

The first and most foundational ingredient for success is that those involved with the project must want it to succeed. This may sound painfully obvious, as IT projects are generally initiated to eliminate some type of business pain. However, stakeholders can consciously or unconsciously erect barriers to project success if they don’t fully understand the efforts or objective, so are resistant to change. You can lead a horse to water, but you…

Chris Rixon explores this point well in a blog post on BMC Communities, writing “While it’s crucial that all stakeholders believe in the mandate for change, they are more likely to be invested if they want it to happen,” and showing how wanting the change improves other areas of project execution such as teamwork and problem-solving.

So how can you make team members internalize the desire for project success? It’s not sufficient to merely ask people what they want. As was the case with microwave ovens in the 1970s, VCRs in the 1980s, GPS devices in the 1990s, and smartphones in the 2000s, people didn’t actually know they wanted these never-seen-before products until they were on the market.

So to understand what people will want, one needs some ability to anticipate what they will embrace. It’s also crucial to “bring users along for the ride,” involving them early on in the process of defining goals and establishing metrics. As Chris writes in his piece, “Invite all team members to define a shared view of success, and you may be surprised to find that even the most hardened skeptics will temper their objections. Their participation is vital to reinforcing the vision and its credibility.”

But ultimately, the best way to create that want may be to empower users to build new things for themselves. People take pride in the act of creation (for example, if anyone has ever served you a salad made with their own homegrown vegetables, they almost certainly made a point of informing you that those veggies came straight from the backyard).

In the realm of IT projects, one example of this is mapping business processes within an enterprise request management (ERM) implementation. Empowering business process owners (e.g., finance, facilities or HR managers) to design, test, change, optimize and deploy their own service delivery processes, with only minimal IT assistance, increases efficiency and speeds up the rollout of new services, while increasing adoption based in pride of creation.

The second characteristic required for a successful project is the belief that it can succeed. U.S. scientists and the technology community embraced President Kennedy’s 1961 challenge to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade because, audacious as that target was, they had confidence it was achievable. If he’d proposed, say, making nuclear fusion work at room temperature within the same timeframe, reaction from the scientific community likely would have been more skeptical.

One of the most effective methods for demonstrating viability is by taking an agile approach. For example, the goal of the ERM approach — using a centralized portal to manage and fulfill any type of service request, from any functional groups across an enterprise, may seem daunting at first. But utilizing an agile approach to service management — beginning with just one or a few common or particularly painful processes or services, then building upon those early “quick wins” — reinforces confidence that request management can be scaled across the organization.

The third critical element for project success is collaboration. Successful projects need high-functioning teams, which Chris describes as “ small, yet focused and inclusive,“ including people with expertise in project management practices, all relevant IT and business specialties, and service delivery management.

The ideal size of the team depends upon the scope and complexity of the project. But teamwork is at our core, and our advice is to form teams that are as small as feasible, as large as necessary, and as passionate as possible.

The last essential ingredient for project success is resources. No project can be successful without sufficient levels and the right mix of people, space, time, equipment, external help, and technology.

IT projects unfortunately go over budget too often. According to the management consulting firm McKinsey, almost half of all IT projects (and two-thirds of software-related projects) exceed initial budget allocations.

Three ways to help ensure that a project has adequate resources allocated to it, without breaking the budget, are:

  • Making teams (therefore, staff time and cost) as small as is feasible (which, as a bonus, makes the team easier to manage and more likely to succeed).
  • Using an agile approach and methodology, to enable “quick wins” and prove the value of the endeavor, before significant investments in dollars or time are made.
  • Leveraging existing, in-place technology whenever and wherever possible. For example, the ERM strategy for business service delivery is focused on leveraging existing investments in software applications and related organizational learning and experience wherever possible, for functions such as scheduling, costing, messaging, reporting, and analytics.

Every new project carries some level of risk of failure. But avoiding all risk would mean never taking advantage of opportunities to grow and improve. By assuring projects clearly address user wants, inspire confidence, optimize collaboration, and are adequately resourced, organizations can maximize their chances of operational and project success.

John Sundberg

Sundberg is co-founder and president of Kinetic Data, a provider of software and services that enable enterprises, outsourced service providers and government agencies to improve their request and delivery processes for shared services across the organization, from IT and HR to finance and facilities.

During his 15 years of designing and managing successful, innovative information system implementations, he has been a lead architect, developer or project manager of more than 100 projects for medium to large enterprises with extensive work in large systems, distributed systems, systems management, and consulting.

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