Thought for the day:Making projects mean business

IT chief Peter Evans looks at setting priorities for project management.How many projects go awry because of cost overruns,...

IT chief Peter Evans looks at setting priorities for project management.How many projects go awry because of cost overruns, unforeseen specification requirements, unplanned resource issues or shifts in technology platforms? Would the answer be too many? You don't have to look too far to find a few high-profile examples in the press.

What's more important to the business - delivering a project on time, or delivering what was originally specified? And can both be done without breaking the bank?

"Technical" projects always seem to be hampered by problems. Maybe I'm just a cynic, but I haven't seen too many marketing campaigns that have missed the deadline or a great deal of financial projects miss the date, so is this just an IT thing?

One method for an IT project to fail is through "decision by default". This happens when the original specification was flawed or too vague and open to interpretation.

Sometimes the technical team decides to interpret it in a different way, implementing what they assume to be the ideal or even better solution. Is this a sign of "IT knows best", or a sign of laziness on the part of the business?

In my experience of working in the IT departments of a number of "new economy" businesses including and Ocado, I've learned several unforgettable key points to consider when running a project:

First, understand the business drivers and make sure everyone else does. Ensure the teams have a clear focus, then find out if there is a business owner of the project or someone who is accountable (if you don't know the difference between accountable and responsible, look it up now). It's important to focus on the solution, not on the technology.

And remember to share the good idea before implementing it. Keep the commercial decisions away from the project, but do communicate with the decision makers - if it's a high-profile project, talk with the high-profile people. And finally, don't be afraid of the budget

There is also a fine line between prudent spending and not spending enough. I remember someone saying to me, "You won't lose your job for spending money, but you will if you don't spend enough."

In a business a project is normally driven by the need to increase revenue or reduce overheads. If you can deliver nearer to time by spending a bit more and thus enabling the revenue stream, surely that's a good thing.

IT directors need to remember that they are a critical component of the business and the lines of communication need to be maintained between IT and the board. If you have the connections, use them. If not, make them.

How do you ensure projects work for the business? >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Peter Evans is chief technical officer of Internet telephony group Callserve Communications and former IT director of fashion site and online grocer Ocado.

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