Delivering projects successfully is critical for your IT organization; in fact it is the key to IT credibility, , , not just the IT organization’s but your credibility as an IT manager as well. That means you need to do things that position your organization for project success.
What is “project success”?
Simply put, project success includes delivering projects that are:
– completed on time
– delivered within budget
– achieve the stated goals and objectives
– meet client expectations
In my experience, there are 6 keys to delivering IT projects successfully:
1. Manage the project’s scope
There are two parts in managing scope – defining the project goals and quantifying the deliverables. Being specific about what the project will achieve and what you will deliver is how you manage your client’s expectations. First rule of delivering a successful project is that you must establish realistic and achievable expectations with your client in the beginning before you actually start working on project tasks. If you don’t, you have no chance in delivering the project successfully.
2. Develop a solid project schedule
A good project schedule identifies all the tasks that must be completed to deliver the project successfully. Once you know exactly what must be done, you can staff the project appropriately and budget the project. Project schedules define:
– tasks that must be completed
– task responsibilities (accountability for completing each task)
– task completion timelines
In a nutshell, a good project schedule defines what, who and when.
3. Staff the project with competent people
It goes without saying that you won’t be very successful if you do not have competent people taking care of the required tasks. Once you identify the tasks required to deliver the project successfully, focus on the people that have the required skills who need to take responsibility for each task.
4. Be conservative when budgeting and estimating task completion time frames
There is a golden rule in IT, , , “Things take longer and cost more than you think they will.” Believe it, it’s true. If you do not have buffer in your budget and project timeline estimates, odds are high that you will either be over budget or deliver the project late, , , or both. Be conservative when estimating project costs and task due dates. You want to position your project team to over deliver. No one gets upset if you complete the project early or under budget.
5. Schedule a Kickoff Meeting to get everyone on the same page.
A great way to get the project started on the right foot is to hold a Project Kickoff Meeting with all project members attending. It allows you to set expectations with the project team members, to identify bottlenecks or key risk areas that might prevent project success, and to outline the guidelines for future project status meetings, , , i.e., “come to status meetings with your tasks completed and prepared”. An effective Kickoff Meeting helps you get everyone on “the same page” and started on a positive note.
6. Manage the schedule with weekly project status meetings
Projects don’t happen on their own. They are successful because project managers make them happen, , , they push and guide projects to the finish line so they are delivered on time and within budget. An important tool project managers use to do this is by holding weekly project status meetings to understand issues that arise, make corrective actions as needed and to push the project forward. You can build a great schedule and budget, but if you do not “manage the project” with regularly scheduled status meetings, the project won’t be delivered successfully.
OK, these are what I consider the 6 keys to managing projects successfully, , , but there is a secret component you need to know about. Three of these key elements require strong communication. Unfortunately, IT managers have a tendency to be weak communicators. I’ve discussed this issue many times in prior posts. It’s a very real problem.
The bottom line is that poor communication is the root of much of our IT failure.
That’s right, in order to complete three of the six key parts of successful project delivery, you must communicate effectively:
1. Manage the project’s scope – This requires you to quantify the goals and objectives and spell out specifically what will be delivered to your client so you can gain agreement. It requires you to communicate with your client.
2. Hold a Project Kickoff Meeting – This requires you to communicate the schedule and obtain “buy-in” from all project team members that they can complete the tasks by the scheduled completion dates.
3. Hold regular Project Status Meetings to manage the project – Again, strong communication skills are required to make this happen.
My sense is that 70-80% of projects that fail are caused by poor communication and not doing these three key parts just listed effectively.
Let me give you two quick examples:
1. Often, IT people are so eager to start the work on a new project, they don’t spend time to define the scope and gain commitment from their client on the specifics that must be delivered. In many cases, they don’t even take the time to define what they believe are the requirements of a project, , , they simply start working. Doing this will spell “disaster” every time.
2. Another example is that I’ve seen IT organizations stop holding Project Status Meetings and updating the project schedule because “it takes too much time”. Yes, it does require time, but if you fail to monitor and manage the project by reviewing the weekly tasks that must be completed, , , you might as well go ahead and ring up another project failure to your list.
Remember, projects don’t happen successfully on their own, , , they are successful only when someone manages the project and pays attention to the details. A big part of this detail work is the communication aspects of three of the six key parts of successful projects that I have laid out to you.
If you are interested in a practical resource and tools to help you deliver projects successfully, check out my book, IT Project Management: a practical approach.