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Structuring Large-Scale IT Projects for Success

September 1, 2018

When 1 in 6 IT projects goes so badly it threatens the very existence of the company, project sponsors and managers must align IT with business value. With more than 25 years of IT experience and an extensive history overseeing major IT projects, Sr. Project Manager and Anchorage Branch Manager Diane Thompson shared 4 key elements for structuring your next large-scale IT project for success.

But first, it’s important to define large-scale IT projects. This will mean something different for each business. While it’s easy to say large-scale IT projects have budgets greater than $10 million, this doesn’t represent most businesses. “Large” is relative to the size of your business. According to Thompson, “A large project is any project that would jeopardize your business if it failed.”

Focus: Align project with and maintain focus on clear business objectives

Build the project’s business case on its strategic value. Establish clear objectives and then don’t lose sight of the objectives throughout the project. Having a clear understanding of your business case and project objectives makes priorities straightforward, decisions easier, and cost overruns unlikely.

For example, let’s say you have a regulatory requirement to provide condition assessment information on meters, but you select software that allows you to maintain information on all your field equipment. While it’s tempting to expand your project to include all your equipment, expanding beyond the original meter condition assessment does not align with your original business objective to meet regulatory requirements and, therefore, risks project failure on schedule or budget.

Finally, and arguably most critical at this stage, ask yourself two questions: 1) What happens if we don’t do the project? 2) What happens if we fail? Your answers can determine whether to push forward or table the project.

Scope: Establish firm requirements and acceptable technical complexity

Define what is in and what is out of scope early on. Make sure all stakeholders agree. Then uphold scope discipline throughout your project, implementing effective change management processes for change requests. These steps are vital to preventing scope creep or a ballooning scope.

Another key aspect of scope to consider with technology projects is technical complexity. Is the technology you want to implement standardized and proven? Is it new? If the latter, it’s important to evaluate how well the technology is truly understood and the benefits and disadvantages of being an early adopter. For example, if you choose to implement the latest and greatest technology, are your staff able to quickly learn it or will you be tied to third party specialists for the foreseeable future?

People: Form a team of people with the right skillset and enough time

Equally important as focus and scope, is establishing the “who” of your project. Who is the Executive Leader? Thompson emphasizes a project that risks your business deserves executive sponsorship and involvement to keep the team focused and make the tough decisions.

Who makes up the project team? Can you accomplish the work all in-house or do you need third party support? Bringing in the appropriate experts with experience, capability, and time to dedicate to your project is a consideration to take seriously.

When making this decision, consider whether you have enough people internally to accomplish the project while continuing to support the daily operations of your business. Do you have the right skillset internally? And are these skills and team aligned with your business objective?

All projects need experienced project managers and motivated and qualified project teams. The formation of which, whether a mix of internal and external or all internal resources, must be sustainable for your business and aligned with the business objective.

Planning: Set realistic schedules using advanced planning

How did you determine your schedule? Did you simply pick a goal date that sounded good, like the end of the fiscal year? If so, you might want to reconsider. Realistic schedules are based on realistic understanding of all the work, the resources available to do it, reliable estimates, and an awareness of both internal and external project dependencies.

Sometimes schedules are determined by funding, which can lead to reactive planning. While always an important decision in planning, when funding determines deadlines it’s even more vital to define what success looks like for your project. Does it look like one large, big bang system replacement or is it incremental improvements after the initial functional pieces are established? Both options can be considered successful so long as the project still aligns with your business objective and is within your budget.

Applying these four critical elements in project planning can help limit or prevent cost and schedule overruns for your next large IT project, ensuring the viability of your business. Contact Us if you need help planning and implementing your next IT project.