Five reasons that can ruin any IT project
Is an IT project always a challenge? For over ten years, we have been closely monitoring the IT market, and we are becoming more and more convinced that changes in the market and acquiring customers are not the most significant difficulty. Instead, IT companies struggle with operational efficiency, which is a small step towards project management.
The Australian branch of KPMG, together with the Australian Institute of Project Management, researched this topic in 2020, and the numbers leave no doubt1
Moreover, only 48% of respondents believe that their organisation is effectively or very effectively managing projects and programs.
Why is that happening?
Communication bottlenecks, questionable decision-making, waste of time explaining processes are just some of the threats slowing down projects and stopping the career development of many managers and directors.
So what are the main features of an IT project? Where do blockages of the operational efficiency of the company appear? How should IT project management be performed?
IT project management and division of responsibilities
Large project tasks usually have a decision-maker. Complications happen when:
It might mean that tasks turn out to be ‚strayed’ and get bogged down
in the ‚no man’s land’. As a result, the project slows down, and the frustration level of teams increases.
The problem may arise already at the project planning stage. The Agile Methodology seems to be a good support in the fight against an unclear division of responsibilities. It introduces appropriate granulation of tasks, a monthly time horizon and small daily iterations to the project tasks.
Granulation is the division of an enormous scope of responsibilities into several smaller parts. When splitting up tasks, you always know who’s in charge. Moreover, „small” jobs do not have room for surprises. At the same time, a shorter planning horizon and daily statuses make project work „here and now”. That prevents the emergence of any ambiguities, including those related to the division of responsibilities.
A pitfall, often confused with an unclear division of responsibilities, is the wrong division of duties. For example, imagine a larger interdepartmental project. You know what the result should be, but you do not know yet how to achieve it. In such a situation, instead of dividing responsibilities, you should first appoint a person to collect the assumptions and needs.
An Analyst or Project Manager usually performs the role of such a „collector”. He will identify the needs of stakeholders (they may even have conflicting expectations), reconcile them all in one project. Thanks to the Project Manager’s work, the project scope will be created, which will then be divided among the team members and communicated.
Then you can be sure that the split you make will not change throughout the project. On the other hand, managing change can be a challenge, but that arises at a later stage.
IT project management and changing the goal
Now think that the decision to go ahead with the project is favourable. Then, the process of executing the arrangements and plans created during the initiation phase begins.
The worst that can happen then is a change in the purpose of the project. Simply put, this is a high risk to the success of the entire endeavour.
Of course, we don’t mean differences in the concept of implementation resulting from identifying further stakeholder needs. They appear in almost every project. Instead, we present a situation when the goal itself changes, which means it was not well defined initially.
Let’s assume that the goal is to provide the customer with high-quality software. That will determine a different design decision than when the customer’s satisfaction with the software is the goal.
The differences will appear, for example, in such aspects as the level of quality (perhaps the client does not need such high quality as we assume) and the execution time (maybe the client needs it quickly because he has obligations with his clients). Suppose the project starts under the first goal, and during the course, it turns out that the latter is critical. In that case, it will have a significant impact on the project’s scope and the set implementation dates.
Analysing such a simple example, you can see how different approaches to the project will be with seemingly similar but different goals. It also illustrates how a goal change can generate much confusion in project management after starting the project.
There are, however, two solutions:
IT project management communication
Communication is essential for any project, regardless of whether its purpose changes or not. However, in the event of a changing goal, communication will be a critical element. Of course, it is not the case that IT companies lack touch – otherwise, nothing would have happened. The problem is its quality.
- What to do to make communication effective?
- How to communicate effectively?
Communication is often severely restricted or unnecessarily stretched. In the first case, we are dealing with a situation where employees communicate solely for reporting purposes. Then they exchange facts, but without concluding. On the contrary, the second scenario generates conclusions and observations, but there is no time to implement them.
Proactivity is also an essential and repeatedly neglected feature of communication. That means communicating changes to everyone immediately when a new course of action happens. Unfortunately, people working on a project often learn about recent decisions with a significant delay and sources other than official communication channels. Likewise, feedback should come out naturally, without pretending everything is ok. Proactive communication means talking about what’s important, not just saying the same thing over and over again.
When building a communication system tailored to the project’s needs, your team have to answer a few key questions:
- What communication platform will you use? (e-mail, Slack, etc.)
- How often should you communicate?
- Who writes down and shares a meeting agenda?
- Do you make meeting minutes?
Who takes notes of the meeting and in what form?
- What will be the information architecture?
- Where and what files will you store?
Be aware, please, that too much communication is as dangerous as not enough communication. We know only a few companies that do not have a problem with a shortage of time due to an excessive number of meetings.
IT project management and time
Lack of time is the most common problem of companies. Both the participants and the decision-makers complain about an excessive number of meetings.
There are three main reasons:
- unclear division of responsibilities – meetings are created to clarify responsibilities,
- passive communication – there is no space for questions, feedback, and discussions,
- habits of the management staff.
The vicious circles of regular meetings and the chronic lack of time eliminate the space for creativity and lead to slow burn out of the management staff. If you want to keep track of meetings, we recommend:
- arranging them for 25 minutes instead of 30 minutes, so that everyone has 5 minutes to switch between contexts,
- using the Pomodoro technique – maximum focus on the task within the assigned time (e.g., 25 min intensive work and 5 min break),
- establishing rules (no phones, no other distractions),
- scheduling and taking notes.
Ultimately, once you are in complete control of all the obstacles to project management discussed so far, there is one more issue – financial management.
IT project management and budget
The budget connects the entire project. That is why the person who ‚tightens budget’ have to communicate with others responsible for implementing the project. Any budget uncertainties, delays in transfers, under-financing, or exceeding the budget slows the project down. Usually, we are clear about the person who decides upon finances but understanding what decisions will be best for the project is often missing.
The problem may exacerbate when the project covers many departments. Who should lead and take responsibility for finances then?
To deal with such situations, you should know how to run multi-decision and multi-budget projects. The Value Stream Map is a helpful tool in this case. Thanks to this tool, project members realise what is most important. They know the terms and value for the customer. Besides, that knowledge makes much easier decisions about which aspect of the project needs more funds.
You can find an example of a well-made Map2 here.
It is a tool created in the spirit of lean management, used to analyse the current state of the project and the upcoming tasks. The Value Stream Map covers the entire project – from the beginning, i.e., from the concept phase to the delivery of value to the customer. The uniqueness of this tool lies in its complexity, transparency, and concentration on the client.
Bringing greater clarity – setting project goals, assigning responsibility, conducting proactive communication, managing time and budget appropriately – is a big challenge and may take several quarters. However, we believe that these activities are worth the effort. The result will be transparent projects that provide unquestionable value to their recipients, i.e., your clients and your company to growth and development.
- Picture 1. https://home.kpmg/au/en/home/insights/2020/08/australian-project-delivery-performance-survey-2020.html
- Picture 2. Value Stream Map https://www.lucidchart.com/pages/templates/flowchart/lucidchart-value-stre-am-map-example
- KPMG/AIPM Project Delivery Performance Survey 2020 – KPMG Australia (home.kpmg)