Instigating change is one thing, seeing it realised is another. IT projects offer businesses a clear pathway to improvement from the ground up and lasting change can be accomplished at a set pace.
However IT opportunities can easily miss their mark. Skipping the key planning steps, choosing the wrong projects – when they come up short, it isn't difficult to pinpoint where projects have gone astray. Furthermore, it's hard to go past the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) cast by examples like the disastrous QLD Health-IBM payroll dispute and dramatic headlines like 70% of IT projects failing.
Successful IT projects are achieved by sticking to a small scale, being followed with subsequent projects in quick succession and, importantly, have a focus on goals. Those goals keep progress on-track, regardless of the issues that pop-up along the way.
After more than 20 years experience in IT, I've seen projects that have gone well....as well as those that haven't quite lived up to expectations! Here's the advice I offer clients on the three ways to keep IT projects on track:
1. Secure a dedicated Champion
A classic problem for IT projects arises when the people making it happen swap and change between initiatives with no consistent leader. Often the project Champion will have worked long and hard to get the project through the planning and approval process. If, when the project reaches implementation, that individual is moved on to other projects without handing the reins to another equally informed, passionate and committed leader, the project risks floundering through lack of direction and responsibility.
A Champion is usually invested in a successful outcome for the project, and is therefore willing to "keep an eye on the prize" and maintain the focus required. They should be able to own the project and push for its success without being hindered. Change is inevitably met by resistance and/or loss of energy, even within the team. The Champion can offer the pivotal direction and motivation to keep a project on track.
2. Keep it simple
Large and complex projects breed confusion. A project will naturally have moments where it will be challenged, where its goals will be questioned. If the team has any doubt about those overall outcomes, it may become a blinding mess.
Achieving change through small, incremental projects is the best path. Where the goals and outcomes are unequivocal, failures can be written-off and lessons learned from them. Trying to tackle a project like "joining the cloud" is massive and can have different meanings to different people. Being realistic in the planning stage, with identifiable outcomes that can be summed up in a sentence or two, is essential.
3. Know when to stop
Tinkering with the goals throughout the project is like walking a tightrope. Not only are you threatening to blow-out its length by adding goals; you also risk wasting time and money by sticking with a project doomed to failure.
Goals should be well defined and projects run at such a scale that altering them isn't realistic. When a new opportunity arises, create a new project. Success can be tracked on both opportunities without changing goal posts.
The same also applies when a project is falling behind. If results aren't being seen, if progress is stalling, there is no point staying on course. Doing so will not only waste more money, it will threaten the viability of later IT projects.
Sparking improvement and taking on change through IT can offer a lot. But jumping in the deep-end and seeking a one-step solution can be overwhelming. Over-optimism can kill an IT project and leave a bad taste going forward. Seek out realistic solutions, with goals that are identifiable, achievable and bring the change you actually want to see in your business.