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Successful IT Project Management – Tips to Avoid Failure
By Esra Guven

Software project failure is often devastating to an organization. Schedule slips, buggy releases and missing features can mean the end of the project or even financial ruin for a company. Oddly, there is disagreement over what it means for a project to fail.

A project can be considered a failure if:

  • It deviates too far from original specifications
  • It doesn’t meet key user requirements
  • It is late or over budget

The main IT project failure criteria:

  • Missed deadlines (Time)
  • Exceeded budget (Cost)
  • Inability to project requirements (Scope)

The main IT project success criteria:

  • Meeting milestones and deadlines
  • Meeting the budget
  • Meeting the project requirements

Statistics over Projects Failure Rate1

  • An IT project is more likely to be unsuccessful than successful
  • About 1 out of 5 IT projects is likely to bring full satisfaction
  • The larger the project the more likely the failure
  • 70% of IT projects “fail”

The best documented IT project failures are the ones involving public money. The most recent example is the Virtual Case File project for the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI had admitted the Virtual Case File Technology had failed to meet the bureau’s requirements and five years of development and $US 170 million in cost had been lost (2005).

Top Reasons of Project Failure

Lack of Communication

  • Poor Communication
  • Poor interpersonal skills
  • Lack of user involvement

Lack of Planning

  • Setting an overly ambitious project scope
  • Lack of project methodology
  • Poor user input and requirements gathering
  • Unrealistic time scales

No Quality Control

  • Scope creep
  • No change control system
  • Poor testing

Poor management

  • Lack of support from senior management
  • Mismanagement of progress

Proposed Solutions to Project Failure Causes

Poor Communication

  • Make sure to keep key stakeholders up-to-date as expectations get changed.
  • If people are not kept informed as to what is going on, they will be surprised when changes occur.
  • Make sure to send all required information to the stakeholders via project status reports.
  • If you send updates to stakeholders and they continually follow-up with you for more information, it is a sign that your communications are not targeted correctly.
  • Explain clearly what team members are expected to do.
  • Communicate clearly the work that is not necessary.

Project Scope

  • Understand the difference between what you want to accomplish and what you’re actually able to accomplish.
  • Do Not commit when goals exceed your ability to deliver timely results.

Poor User Input and Requirements

  • Don’t give users something they didn’t ask for.
  • Write down user requirements formally and have approval from user.
  • Establish clear user requirements.
  • Develop a formal set of project specs.
  • Don’t forget that systems are built to support the end-user, not the developers.
  • Requirements need to be worked out on both sides:
    • Users – who know the business processes best – need to clearly express their requirements and provide feedback on each project deliverable.
    • Developers – who know what technology can be used to put those business processes into place – need to ask the right questions and not make any assumptions on what they think the users mean.

Senior Management Support

  • Carefully connect the goal of your project to larger goals in the organization.
  • Show how achieving your project goal will further the goals of your own area.
  • Develop the same connection between the project goal and the goals of those managers from whom you need support.

Poor Interpersonal Skills

  • Respect, listen, communicate, and be honest

User Involvement

  • Users need to be involved from the start, and continuously throughout the development.
  • Make necessary arrangements with the user managers so that users can actively participate project.
  • Train users about the technology.
  • Help user to have them understand what they really want.

Unrealistic Time Scales

  • Don’t under estimate or over estimate the project timeline.
  • Consider the volume of work that needs to be done to ensure delivery.
  • Review all project plans to see if they are realistic.
  • Challenge the participants to express any worries they may have.

No Change Control System

  • Use phased approach to build systems, so that change has less chance to affect development.
  • Evaluate the effects of any changed requirements on the timescale, cost and risk of project.
  • If the change is inevitable, follow change control process.

Poor Testing

  • The users must run acceptance tests to see if the system meets the business requirements.
  • Check the system methodically.
  • Plan and design tests.
  • Have sufficient time to achieve the testing objectives.
  • Train users who do not know what the purpose of testing is.

Additional Tips

Technical Lead

  • Don’t use a Technical Lead that has never built a similar system. The person in the role of project Technical Lead must be experienced. He/she should have completed other successful similar projects. The role of technical lead is like that of a skilled heart surgeon. You would not expect a family doctor to perform brain surgery or administer anesthesia. It is critical for the person in charge of the technical aspects of the project to have experience with the type of system being built.

Developers

  • Don’t hire too many developers to make the coding go. More is not always better. This is especially true in the case of development teams.

Testing

  • Don’t skip the testing phase because the project is way behind schedule. The time spent to thoroughly test any system before placing it into production can save much more time in the long run.

Scope Change

  • Don’t change the system to support critical new requirements discovered during final development. Enforce hard and fast rules about what changes are acceptable and when changes can be made.

Methodology

  • Don’t cut corners, methodologically. In the long run, this results in system failure or an inadequate system that doesn’t meet the users’ needs.

Project managers must focus on three dimensions of project success. Project success means completing all project deliverables on time, within budget, and to a level of quality that is acceptable to sponsors and stakeholders. The project manager must keep the team’s attention focused on achieving these broad goals.

1 Based on the surveys performed in North America, statistics presented by an organization called IT Cortex.

Esra Guven, BScEE, PMP
Founder/Director, STAR-PM, http://www.star-pm.com – Canada

Esra Guven is the Founder of Star-PM and serves in the position of Director. In this capacity, Ms. Guven prepares and provides all the informative study guides on the website and in the published study guide. She is a qualified trainer who has over 10 years of project management experience in the Information Technology area and 7 years of network qualification experience. She is also author of a PMP Certification Book called “Pass PMP Exam on Your First Try, Online Edition” which is recently published in Canada.

She can be reached by e-mail at esra.guven@star-pm.com at http://www.star-pm.com

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