It has become a common complaint among C-suite executives from all disciplines: IT projects frequently take much longer than planned and wind up costing much more than budgeted. Despite the many tools available, including project management software and collaboration in the cloud, many projects fall far behind schedule or fail to reach the deployment stage. The primary reason that IT projects fail is poor project management. However, there are a variety of mistakes that can be made in project management. The following list explores the most common mistakes that can doom an IT project and how you can avoid them to ensure success on every project.
Lack of Executive Buy-In
The success of an IT project often hinges on the support it receives from upper management. Too often, CEOs and other high-level executives fail to understand the purpose and benefits of the project. They may unintentionally sabotage the project by demanding unworkable solutions or placing unreasonable restrictions.
Solution: Early in the planning process, ensure that at least one member of the C-suite has a vested interested in the success of the project. This executive should assume ownership of the project as well as responsibility for its success.
Timelines Are Too Optimistic
Sometimes, a novice project manager may not realize just how long a project will take. At other times, however, the timeline is dictated by management. Regardless of the timeline's source, it is the project manager who will bear the brunt of the criticism if the deadline is not met.
Solution: Once a project manager has determined the time that the project should require, they should increase that time to build in a buffer — just in case something goes wrong. When faced with an especially aggressive timeline that has been dictated by management, project managers should clearly communicate with management that the timeline cannot be met.
Poor planning can take many forms. Perhaps the specifications were not sufficiently detailed or the scope was not clearly defined. Perhaps approval authority is not included in the plan or there is no system for tracking changes. The plan may not include a metric for defining whether the project is a success.
Solution: Take the time to plan every detail, including how contingencies will be handled, before initiating the project. It may be necessary to update the plan over the course of the project, but major modifications should not be needed.
Not Having the Right People on the Team
Project teams need to be comprised of people having the right skills for the type of project under development. Some people are gifted coders, others excel at graphic design, and still others have a great understanding of system integration. The team assembled must have the right balance of skills for the particular project.
Solution: As part of the initial planning process, determine which skill sets are needed for the project. Evaluate potential team members to make sure that each individual has a skill that is required for the team. Do not include more staff members with identical skills than the project will need.
Since they will bear the brunt of the blame if a project fails, some project managers become more babysitters than managers. However, members of the executive team can also be guilty of micromanaging. Micromanagers feel that they must be involved in every decision, often demand spontaneous updates, and act like it is their job to police the entire team.
Solution: Part of the initial plan should include a schedule for regular meetings and progress updates throughout the project. During the kick-off meeting, let the team know how often progress meetings will be held; weekly meetings are typically sufficient, but some projects, especially those of short duration, may require more frequent status meetings. Encourage team members to bring up any issues during those meetings, but instruct them to bring any issues that could delay the project or otherwise hamper its success to the project manager's attention immediately. It is then just a matter of trusting team members to do their jobs.
IT project management can be challenging. However, when done correctly, projects can be completed on time and within budget. At the end of the day, then, everyone from the CEO to the junior team members can take satisfaction in a job well done.