As organisations start to emerge from the shadow of a major global economic recession, IT departments need to take long and hard looks at current and planned investment plans. While sharp cut backs and freezing new development might have yielded short term returns, companies now need to be identifying and prioritising their future IT projects so that they can benefit from business opportunities that emerge as the economy picks up and growth returns.
Many organisations find themselves with an abundance of legacy IT applications and systems. Often new business requirements can be addressed by utilising existing IT assets. Avoiding additional application software expense combined with leveraging in-house experience and expertise can accelerate return on investments for new projects. In addition to making the right technology choices, IT project success can only be assured when key stakeholders are on board with requirements fully defined, issues identified and strategies agreed.
Automation technology can become the glue that allows non-invasive connectivity of disparate applications. It can also accelerate several phases of new IT projects such as automating the creation and configuring of development resources and cloning of production data for unit and QA testing. While automation can help, it is still essential that best practice approach be applied through all stages of each IT project.
Identify Obstacles and Assess Risk
For each IT project the people, process and technology elements need to be assessed in relation to the overall business goals of an organisation.
Key questions need to be asked including, Are the right people involved from all business units affected by this initiative? Has adequate due diligence been conducted to align the IT project goals and objectives with the needs of the people utilising the resulting technology? Is the IT project team sufficiently capable to deliver the expected results? Is IT fixing the problem with just technology or improving the underlying business processes?
Business Leaders Need to be Onboard
Getting senior management buy-in and executive level sponsorship is essential for project success. In todays climate it is also important to get support throughout the organisation ensuring that line management and key departmental staff such as Customer Service Managers, Account Directors, Operations, Finance Controllers or Marketing Executives. Individuals, such as these, carry clout due to their close alignment to delivering value to the shareholders.
Nothing instills support like genuine involvement. Conducting formal end user surveys/questionnaires to gather input on projects deliverables and features will help smooth project implementation and roll-out. The most successful surveys/questionnaires often start from IT where the goals and objectives are defined based on technical feasibility, but then developed by allowing the end user/power users to provide input on priority requirements and importance rankings for features. This level of user engagement will improve ongoing support, interest and increased focus during key phases and project milestones.
Prior to project initiation deliver a powerful presentation to the project team and management that leaves the tech jargon behind and highlights the business value the initiative will deliver such things as customer retention, renewals, increased worker productivity all with measurable and quantifiable results. This is another great opportunity to leverage and gain end user commitment have them assist with the creating of value proposition statements and measurements.
Regular status meetings scheduled up front to deliver short concise project updates breeds confidence from management. Clearly demonstrating any risk factors and additional requirements needed from resources outside of IT control will ensure they can see, and more importantly, act on ITs behalf to rally the resources needed to deliver the project on time with the expected value.
No Need to Reinvent the Wheel
Leveraging proven tools and techniques instead of re-invention can help reduce project timescales. It can also simplify maintenance. Model based, object-oriented design that allows a build once, use many times approach offers economies of scale and reusability. Building templates that map critical processes that form part of a project can be joined together using non-invasive IT business process automation technologies.
Mapping and modeling processes to be automated can reduce project timescales by enabling rapid development and easy repeatable deployment of common process templates. When a project goes live to automating processes can remove unnecessary intervention that might introduce errors. Reducing manual hand-offs and automating process steps such as managing external interfaces can ensure avoidable delays are minimised and IT systems are more responsive to business demands.
Performance and Progress Must be Tracked
Failure to deliver and properly assess the quality of work through a project will impact success. These can be overcome by conducting routine project review sessions with key component owners and designating individual owners who are responsible for quality control and inter-team communication.
Development projects or major IT project initiatives often fail when trying to combine two key components together late in the project. A mistake not caught early on will create major havoc if the fine tuning is left to the last days/weeks of the project. Undertaking both unit and system walkthroughs on a regular basis can reduce this risk.
One practice gaining traction on some major IT project initiatives is an incentive program for team members (monetary, team based outing etc.) based on meeting milestones, bug free code, end user satisfaction and the like.
Keeping Within the Scope of What Was Agreed
Reviewing team members availability, technical expertise, and business skill make-up prior to creating the functional specifications, end user survey/questionnaire and initial task plan helps reduce the likelihood of overstating capabilities and timeframe commitments.
If the end user/power user and management community are involved and have communicated their acceptance of the project deliverables at the outset of a project, the chance of the dreaded Scope Creep are greatly diminished. The risk of not meeting project expectations becomes increasingly slim.
Breaking a project up into smaller and measurable phases allows a team to demonstrate success at shorter intervals through milestone achievements. This also provides the team the ability to close out specific phases as they are completed.
Failure is not an Option
Future IT projects have to maximise the investments placed in them and deliver the promised results on time. Most organisations already have the tools needed to undertake and complete new projects at their finger tips. In addition to the technology it is essential that people are on-board and that processes are established. With the emergence of a new economic climate, it is a given that IT is a part of the business fabric and failing projects will have a direct impact on company performance.