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The history of ‘IT project delivery’ still leaves a lot to be desired. Many overrun their budgets and some, have even led to outright business failure. Even those IT Projects that are declared a success are often judged solely, on the fact that the technology “went live”. We need to ensure a better focus on delivering the benefits that inspired the original investment.

Early on, in my career, as a Manufacturing Operations Manager, I recall having to hit a high bar on return-on-investment goals when seeking capital from a hard-headed MD. Having delivered the production-line upgrade and the product successfully rolled down the lines again, my team and I celebrated our “success“. Pretty quickly, however, the frugal MD was on our case. He demanded we meet the productivity and quality improvements we had enthusiastically promised when seeking the initial investment. Our feet were held firmly to the fire until we delivered those benefits. While this was what we might euphemistically call a “teachable moment”, it proved helpful later in my IT career.

I spent my early working life in Quality/Operations management and later in IT delivery. I feel this gives me a good handle on what makes both business and IT “tick”. I am convinced that most of the reasons why IT projects don’t deliver are addressable.

Here are my three key recommendations to improve success:

1. Ensure there is clarity around the business objectives and benefits, and how technology will contribute or enable these

Managing and leading a business is complex, and business leaders/owners often need to wear many hats. Technology selection and implementation can be a tricky area. It’s easy to understand why business people often “just leave it to the techies”. There are certainly areas where technical experts need to be listened to (e.g., scaling, performance, integration, cybersecurity, backup/recovery etc). However, the business leaders need to provide clear direction on the longer-term business objectives and throw their support entirely behind the selection and implementation of new technology. It is essential to take the time to clarify the priorities and agree on trade-offs. I’d also strongly recommend mapping out before and after processes, so it’s clear to everybody involved what the investment expectations are. Tools such as “Day-in-life-of” or swim-lane diagrams can be beneficial visual tools to gain a shared understanding and alignment.

Be open to where the solutions and benefits can come from. Sweat your assets. Sometimes I find that the existing technology within the business is underutilised or that minor add-ons or upgrades can provide the necessary answers.

Once it’s clear what the new technology will deliver, then each function needs to identify the benefits for them. These could be productivity savings, performance improvements or even entirely new service offerings. We must hold these benefits front and centre through all future stages of the project. Deploying technology projects can be onerous and require quite a commitment from the business. When the going gets tough, it’s good to remind people why they are doing this and to ensure we keep “our eye on the prize” at all times.

Technology “lights-On” is not (just) the goal. As we move through the implementation, trade-offs and decisions will need to be made. We need to make sure that these do not significantly impact the objectives and benefits that drove the investment in the first place.

2. Support your team through the change

All good managers and leaders understand that IT changes require people to change. Stakeholders need to understand and buy into the change. Change management needs to provide the conditions for buy-in as part of the IT strategy. It’s not just technical; it’s also social. Set the tone from the top and communicate what, how and why the project is taking place. Support users with training during and after the implementation.

Celebrate the wins along the way. Carry out ‘process walkthroughs’ weeks and months after you go-live to ensure that the new processes and technology has stuck. It’s not unusual to find users have drifted back to old ways of working due to years of comfort and familiarity with the legacy processes. Help your team through the change, and you will be rewarded with better morale and faster delivery of benefits.

3. Utilise good basic Project Management Practice

While mapping out a clear destination is critical, there will still be obstacles to navigate around along the way. Staying on track (avoiding budget or schedule overruns) is the role of good project management. At a minimum, I recommend:

• Project Charter (overview of objectives, who, what, why, when)
• Stakeholder Engagement/Communication Plans
• Risks and Issues Tracking
• Scheduling and task mgmt.
• Budget and benefits tracking.

These can be scaled appropriately depending on the scale and size of the project.

With 25+ years of experience in ‘hands-on’ business functional roles and Information Technology, I understand your business’s needs, and I provide the IT knowledge and expertise to make your business a success. ITdirector.ie’s business is business improvement.

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