Set projects on firm foundations

It is hard to recover from a bad start, so IT managers need to make sure they get projects right first time

It is hard to recover from a bad start, so IT managers need to make sure they get projects right first time

Research shows that up to half of IT projects fail. Now, while the trend is widespread, would be a good time for the IT world to smarten up its act.

The need for rapid return on investment in IT projects has never been more pressing than in the current economic climate. IT consultants and project managers who fail to manage projects effectively put their jobs and their companies at risk, as well as the individual project they are managing.

What, then, are some of the key elements of a successful IT project?

First, a project needs a business-driven focus. This can be engendered by building both a strong business case and the related architecture, and by understanding the business' readiness to accept the new system. This might include how users are going to be trained in the new systems or how you plan to ensure that "go live" is a success and that the business adopts the technology once it is built.

An important part of maximising efficiencies is putting together cross-disciplinary high-performance teams to ensure that the project meets the needs of the business and its customers.

For optimum results, key members of the team should have worked together on previous projects. If they have worked as a team before, they will know one another's strengths and weaknesses. A natural camaraderie may already be established which will serve to enhance the whole team's productivity and enthusiasm.

Teamwork can also be fostered by creating a "collaboration space" or room for planning projects, brainstorming variables and mapping out timelines.

Other efficiencies can be found through the identification of "pre-built assets" including pieces of reusable code which could be applied for use in the new project. It should also be possible to create a "ready-to-go" environment based on the technology you plan to use for the project.

All this could be set up right at the start of the project even before the applications themselves are built. Provided that it is in place, the project is ready to move to an initiation stage involving further preparations, fleshing out proof of concepts and linking the current scope of the project to the business benefits. At this stage, project governance and team responsibilities are carved up and assigned.

Ideally, all IT projects should aim to deliver benefits within one calendar quarter. If no discernible results can be gained inside three months, project managers need to ask why - before their bosses do.

Often the answer will be that they simply have not planned for that speed of development and the appropriate efficiencies and focus have not been applied to make it happen.

Pradeep Mathur is head of integration services at Differentis

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