How Prior Project Planning and Effective Communication Prevent Failure of Your IT Project

Seventy percent of Information Technology (“IT”) projects fail. A staggering percentage that would be unacceptable in any other area of business. Why does this high failure rate seem so widely accepted in the IT space? For an organization to roll out a successful IT project, whether it’s a new initiative or the launch of a new technology, an organization can do many things to correct that abysmal statistic.

The 5P’s and 2C’s

Business leaders often find themselves wondering how they can prevent their IT project from joining the undesirable 70%. These leaders tend to overthink how they can prevent this, without realizing the answer is quite simple: turn to the 5P’s and 2C’s, or Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance and Communication is Critical. Leaders must also understand “The Planning Paradox,” which says the biggest challenge to those outside the project is when planning is done well, it seems almost non-existent. It’s usually when planning is non-existent, that it becomes apparent. In order to examine proper project planning, and the Planning Paradox, let’s examine two wildly different social gatherings.

The Holiday Parties

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and with it comes holiday parties with friends, family, and co-workers. Imagine a recent party or gathering you’ve been to where everything “just seemed to flow.” An invitation arrives months before the expected event with easy RSVP instructions. You are provided turn-by-turn directions to an event, instructions on where to park, and even how to dress. When you arrive, the event is well-lit, you are graciously greeted by a valet who opens your door and parks your car. You follow great signage to the event, your name tag is ready and you’re introduced to other guests. The drinks and hor d’oeuvres magically appear while you socialize and mingle. Later, the dinner bell rings and you’re escorted to your seat at a perfectly set table. After dinner, there is a wonderful dessert, dancing, and as you leave you’re given a small gift and your car is ready and waiting for you. You climb into your car and drive home wondering why everything in life can’t be as easy as the past four hours.

What you don’t see is the 600 hours it took to plan the event. Frankly, you shouldn’t see them, planning the event was not your job. However, that is my job as the Project Manager, and when I do my job well, you will barely notice that I exist. If the planning portion is lacking, you will begin to wonder why you bothered to leave the house.

Let’s look at another party, one that suffers from a lack of planning. One afternoon you notice a post-it note on your desk for the event. You embark late to the party because you forgot to put a reminder on your calendar and haven’t heard from the party organizer since the invite three months ago. The location is tucked away and you begin to fight with your spouse because you can’t find the event to the party (“I’m telling you, the entrance was back there a few miles!”). Finally, you arrive and can’t find a place to park. You park in a dark corner and don’t see the puddle right below you as you step out, ruining your shoes. When you arrive, you have no idea where to find the event. You ask someone at the front desk, and while they’re nice, they are not sure what party you are talking about. By the time you find the location of your party, you are already stressed and a bit frustrated. You need to give yourself a pep talk just to have a good time and cannot wait to leave. It should have been a great night, what happened?

Planning for Success

The planning of anything, from holiday parties to IT projects is crucial, albeit not sexy. Very few people will notice its absence, until the first problem or risk arises. Then everyone begins to wonder if there was any project planning at all. How does a business leader plan a successful IT project? In a lot of the same ways a party planner delivers a successful holiday party.

Three Pillars of Project Management – A focus on the three pillars of project management, time, scope, and cost, early on can ensure positive results. During the initial meeting and every subsequent meeting (both internal and external with the client), time, scope, and cost should be discussed. These discussions ensure that everyone is aligned with a common purpose and expectations.

Kickoff Meeting – The kickoff meeting is the initial project meeting with the client. During this meeting, confirm time, scope, and cost of the project. Does the client expect “Rome to be built in a week”? Most people would agree this is an unreasonable request. However, one of the challenges of technology is that most people are unclear about the level of effort (“LOE”) required to deliver their project as a whole. This potential knowledge gap makes planning and communication even more important.

You should begin project planning as early as possible. No plan is ever set, and can be adjusted as new information or requirements become available. Early on in the process, there are a few key areas to focus on:

Demand time to plan – Like the foundation of a building, the planning is rarely thought about, until it is absent. In an effort to shorten the project timeline the planning stage will often be shortened or eliminated. The train of thought goes “we know what we’re doing, we can deliver this on the fly.” Your team may be able to pull it off, if everything goes well without any issues. Next time you think about shortening the planning phase, ask yourself, “how many projects have I been involved in which have encountered no issues?” It’s likely the answer will be “very few” or even “none.”

Avoid accountability problems – Create clear assignments from the initial meetings and throughout the project. This step is often overlooked because of the prevailing logic of “we all know what we are doing.” Spend the time to cover all logistics. After you think you have covered all topics, ask your internal team “what have I forgotten?” Some of the most common areas to address are:

  • What is the communication plan?
  • How often will the internal team meet?
  • How often will there be client facing meetings?
  • If additional decisions need to be made during the project, what is the escalation and approval process?
  • What happens if the scope of the project changes?
  • What are the responsibilities of the client?
  • What is the responsibility of the service provider?
  • Are there others involved in the project who will have responsibilities?

Although this is not a comprehensive list, all of the above should be planned, discussed, and approved with the client and all members of the project team.

Communication is critical – Communication is an essential part of a project with both your client and internal partners. You must know what you know, and what you don’t know. Establishing strong relationships and an environment of honesty and trust (see our previous article on establishing trust in your relationships) between all parties will lead to a successful project. The sooner your technical team informs you of an issue, risk, or delay, the sooner you, as the Project Manager, can manage that delay. You can determine if the delay will impact the timeline, or if it can be absorbed into the lag time built into your plan. The worst case scenario is to start a meeting with a client, and everyone finds out during the meeting there has been a delay. This can be avoided with regular check-ins with your technical team and client team. Explain to your technical team that you need to know about status, progress, and delays on a regular basis. By doing this the Technical team can focus on development and you as the PM can focus on keeping the client satisfied and happy.

Developing trust with technical team – As the Project Manager, it is your responsibility to set the tone for the project. Establish trust and open communication. During the best projects, the trust makes for smoother progress. During projects which begin to have issues, the trust is paramount. As the Project Manager it falls to you to set and reset the trust level constantly.

stamp trust in red over white background

Deadlines – When developing your project plan and timelines, make sure you build in lag time, or a specific amount of time to account for the addition of new requirements or inevitable project delays. If your technical team estimates a certain deliverable will take three days to complete, build in an extra day or two to your client-facing project plan. There will be cases where segments of work take more time than was originally anticipated. By building in a lag time, your project will have the ability to catch up without a change in overall timeline. This is a sensitive area. Too much lag time and the plan becomes unacceptably long, too little lag time and the project may need to have the overall timeline extended. As a rule, try to under promise and over deliver.

Resourcing issues – A crucial part of the planning process is to ensure that all key participants have clearly blocked off the appropriate amount of time to cover their responsibilities. Everyone has busy calendars, the sooner you as the PM can lock down the schedule, the better. Remember to build lag time into your plan and resource requests.

Scope creep – Throughout a project, it is natural for the client to see areas for additional improvements. Certain areas where they would like to expand the scope of the project. Hopefully, you covered this contingency during the kickoff meeting. The first time you hear what sounds like scope creep you need to acknowledge that the requests being discussed are new. Either pause the meeting to discuss the new scope or place the item in the “parking lot” to be discussed when appropriate. When discussing scope creep, stand on the three pillars of project management: scope, timeline, and cost.

  • Acknowledge the scope has changed
  • Inform all parties that because the scope has changed, the timeline may need to be adjusted
  • Calculate whether the change in scope will require an additional LOE. If so, it is likely additional costs will be incurred

For more information on scope creep, see our previous article on how to keep scope creep at bay.

Pull people who don’t perform – When deadlines are missed or work is faulty, pulling people off the project who aren’t performing is one of the few tools a Project Manager has at their disposal. If the subcontractors or members of the technical team are not meeting goals in a timely fashion, the Project Manager needs to be prepared to find alternative resources who can meet the project expectations. This should be used sparingly and only after continuous efforts to make improvements have failed.

Projects are like the snowflakes you may see falling as you walk into your next holiday party. No two are the same. By following the above project planning recommendations, you can greatly improve your odds of having a successful, smooth, and low-stress project.

MCF Technology Solutions has a team of Project Management professionals, with various professional certifications. We provide project management services to all of our clients, which has led to hundreds of successful projects. Contact us today to get started working with our talented technical team and Project Managers, to deliver a Quickbase application to help run your business more effectively.