By Chris Fenly, Executive Consultant at Waterstons
Businesses need to change, not only to prosper but to survive. Operations no longer follow a static pattern, interspersed by bursts of change. Continuous business change is now the norm.
Software vendors are catching up with this, developing more agile systems and marketing them based on this key feature. However, statistics show that implementation of these changes, through the delivery of projects, particularly IT projects continues to fail.
A common theme of studies on the success versus failure of IT projects is that the vast majority of IT projects fail to meet time, budget or/and quality goals – sometimes missing all goals or even being stopped mid-project. In order to reverse this trend we must recognise where the problems are.
The most common project management mistakes are the project team ignoring or cutting corners with the process; the project team losing sight of the project objective and, probably most importantly a lack of business buy-in.
Project team ignoring or cutting corners with the process
This is the most surprising mistake, as it’s the easiest to avoid. Many project managers know the process, but do not follow it. This may be because they are busy and deprioritise tasks; a lack of team co-ordination; or an inappropriate view of risks. The issue is a lack of belief in the importance of the process; rather than a lack of knowledge of the process.
I’ve seen first-hand projects without appropriate risk assessments, requirements documentation or testing plans. Project issues can usually be resolved or prevented through following the correct process. A project manager needs to believe in the process and understand the ramifications of not following it.
Lack of buy-in from the user community
This issue is one of the saddest, most common and most expensive mistakes a project team can make, as it usually becomes apparent at the end of the process. A project team can be very excited about what they are about to deliver however, on delivery the reaction is at best apathy, at worse hostility.
The NHS National Programme for IT project was to provide a central electronic care record for patients; but was abandoned after £11bn had been spent. Corners were cut with the process; resulting in the scope and cost of the project being massively underestimated. However, the final death knell for the project was its rollout at its pilot site, London’s Royal Free Hospital. Staff were given over optimistic promises. Staff reported major concerns over lack of training. The result was rejection of the system by staff and the programme being cancelled.
The lack of staff buy-in could have been resolved with change management techniques. This would have set proper expectations. Staff would have been looking forward to the new system, and adequate training would have meant staff were confident in coping with issues that arose.
Issues should be expected and planned for. Open communication, setting proper expectations and having a support process in place to resolve issues shows commitment to the user community
Lose sight of the objective
It is imperative that before a project’s kick-off, success measures are defined and actually measured during and after the project. If the objectives will not be realised, at worst the project can be stopped before additional expense is incurred, at best a new business case can be agreed.
The project manager should understand the reasons for the process and the reasons for the project. Although knowledge of what is being delivered can help, it can also hinder if the Project Manager is focused on these details, forgetting the project objectives.
The common mistakes are all people related. Having the right project team; particularly the right Project Manager is an essential first step. A strong Project Manager, will not only identify issues but also ensure they are mitigated. A business wishing to succeed should ensure proper priority is given not only to what is being delivered, but by whom and how it will be delivered.