Five steps to project prowess

David Taylor

Inside track

When I started in electronic data processing, five out of 10 projects failed to meet the needs of the...

David Taylor

Inside track

When I started in electronic data processing, five out of 10 projects failed to meet the needs of the company and were over budget, or late.

This caused much consternation, shame and debate, and much proclamation from rooftops that this must not be allowed to continue.

Now, nearly 20 years later, we have indeed changed that figure - it is now estimated that nine out of 10 IT projects either do not meet the real needs of our fast-changing businesses, cost more than expected, or are behind time. And four out of 10 projects collapse completely.

A terrific achievement. Of course, there are no such animals as "IT projects", although convincing our business peers of this is a far bigger challenge. And the result of this lack of ownership, prioritisation and clarity has led to many projects within our organisations going off track, going pear-shaped or becoming "runaway". The terms may be different - the reality is always the same.

How can IT departments and leaders maximise their chances of success in projects, ensure business peers are accountable, and generally take this challenging area forward?

Based on analyses of successful and failing projects, here are my top five actions to keep projects on target, or to rescue those that have gone wrong.

In reverse order of importance are:

5) Ensure that all projects have both an IT and business owner who build the closest and most trusted of relationships - project problems happen due to poor communication and they escalate due to these not being resolved quickly. They must speak every single day.

4) Prioritise. Very few IT departments have clear project priorities, understood, communicated and brought into by everyone. Your board must prioritise your top 10 projects - likely all to be mission-critical. They should be ranked according to bottom-line financial benefits, additional and retained customers, or staff motivation - the only three benefits that should be aimed for. If your board won't prioritise them, do it yourself and present the list.

3) Focus on the end game and how every person, action and development helps you to achieve it. This involves adopting a super-positive, achievement expectation, with successes being celebrated.

2) Successful projects have this consistent theme - they are clear in their vision and purpose. They can be described in one sentence that is easily understood. If you have any projects that, when described, beg the question "so what?" or worse still, "run that by me again," there is big trouble ahead.

1) Ensure your project managers have the top qualities needed for successful project management, namely outstanding leadership skills, strong interpersonal, communication and being able to stay focused on the end result and its achievement.

In case you thought I had forgotten about them, Prince2 and other methodologies do not even warrant a mention in the list.

What a shame that so-called project management courses continue to focus on these. That should explain where all the millions we have spent on project management training have gone - down the drain.

David Taylor is president of the association of IT directors, Certus. His collected columns David Taylor's Inside Track is out now, published in Butterworth-Heinemann's Computer Weekly series.

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