What makes a successful project?

Lessons from the Tif Awards shortlist

Lessons from the Tif Awards shortlist

The Corporate IT Forum, Tif, presented its annual awards earlier this month. As the judges analysed the shortlisted candidates for the awards, which include prizes for technical innovation and IT projects that have boosted profits or cut costs, several common themes emerged.

Close relationships

The successful shortlisted projects all had exceptionally close links between the business leadership and the project team. The business customer/IT supplier approach was all but absent and the judges saw the development of integrated teams, based around common goals, with each individual or group contributing something of value to the project.

There was genuine collaboration, with the programmes adding something significant to the business. In many cases, initiatives were led by a senior business executive and IT projects were tracked at board meetings.

Good project management

IT projects generally have a poor reputation for delivery. However, all the shortlisted schemes were founded on sound organisational structures, with project boards, technical steering groups and high levels of communication between the involved parties.

Some of the entries set themselves aggressive targets, with the understanding that the detailed planning would probably result in longer timescales. In cases where projects ran into unexpected changes or difficulties, the project was either halted, or the project manager felt that they had the power to halt the programme.

Risk management

All the projects carried a risk register, but the judges noted that the status of risks was being constantly monitored by the project team. In most cases, formal risk reviews were carried out at frequent intervals - as short as a few days in some cases. As a result, there seemed to be few surprises and the projects performed in a very predictable fashion.

Measurement as a way of life

The capture and measuring of metrics was carried out extensively by all the shortlisted candidates. A theme emerged which showed that the project managers were analysing "in-flight" data to understand their performance.

Measurement extended to all areas, not just standard project control parameters. A considerable amount of effort was put into understanding benefit metrics.

All the shortlisted projects had strong, quantifiable benefit cases, but some of the entries went further and looked deeply into the intangible benefit areas and attempted to measure them.

Intangibles are by nature difficult to measure. For example, if turnover is increased, it is difficult to prove that a particular IT system and its processes were responsible. The measurement of intangible benefits was not perfect, but where it was done, it did provide the leadership with a perception of probability.

Technological changes

Many of the entries used the same general principles when buying technology.

Industry leading packages were chosen, and a number of entrants outlined how they had rigorously checked the roadmaps for the projects they had selected, so they could be confident that the deliverable would continue to function for its planned life.

Second, bespoke development was only a minor part of the project, and in the strongest projects was strictly confined to areas which could generate genuine competitive advantage, such as forecasting.

Conclusion

There is nothing new in all the common themes to emerge from the shortlist. The difference is that in these projects the principles of project management, stakeholder management and risk management were executed both effectively and ruthlessly.

Information on the Tif Awards

'www.tif.co.uk

The State of IT Project Management in the UK - definitive study from ComputerWeekly.com and Oxford University's Templeton College

'www.computerweekly.com

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