Executing a successful IT project requires choosing the right project in the first place and knowing just how far to take it, according to Brad Wealand, vice president of Systems Evolution’s Consulting Division.
Smart Business asked Wealand how companies can improve their IT success rates.
What are the fundamentals of a good IT project?
More than anything, in today’s environment where business competition and technology are changing all the time, companies have to decide if an IT solution will either solve a problem or help the company take advantage of a new business opportunity.
There’s also a place for projects that help reduce maintenance and support, but even those projects should solve a problem or create opportunities by shifting operational expense money over to the capital expenditure side where it can return an ROI. If an IT solution is not doing one of those things, chances are companies are better off doing something else with that money to drive competitive advantage.
What project management aspects tend to get overlooked?
Most people minimize the importance of up-front requirements analysis to determine exactly what they really need.
With IT, it is easy to spend a little money and come up short on important features, or to spend a lot and get something much different than what you really need. Both scenarios waste cash, and may not improve a company’s capabilities much at all.
A good project is set to deliver a system that will meet your business expectations. The key is to appropriately define the problem before attempting to define the solution. Do not start defining what the solution needs to be (screen shots, data requirements, etc.) until agreeing on desired business outcomes and activities that need to be supported.
How can companies determine if a project should be done in house or by an outside IT provider?
It all depends on a company’s circumstances and priorities. If something is mission-critical to operations and also complex or unique to one’s business, it might be good to keep the project in house so the expertise stays there. However, in-house people may not have the skills or time to build it effectively, so some kind of hybrid team may be most appropriate.
If a project is relatively simple and not mission-critical, outsourcing, third-party commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software purchases or hosting by an MSP (managed service provider) may be adequate solutions that leave your organization free to tackle other more important challenges.
A lot of solutions are touted as ‘complete’ or ‘integrated,’ yet no one will say they want an incomplete solution or a nonintegrated system. What do companies really need?
There’s no checklist or definition of what makes a complete solution. We consider a complete solution one that gives the customer everything he needs. A large percentage of IT projects fail, but it’s not always due to mismanagement or poor execution. It’s often a case of a project not meeting expectations, which may have been unrealistic or undocumented in the first place. It really goes back to understanding the true requirements.
The integration issue is similar to the constant challenge with school finance: no one will say they are in favor of bad schools or poor performance, but that doesn’t find the best model for how to derive the desired outcome. Similarly, no one wants a nonintegrated solution, but how integrated does it need to be? Within a given division? Through all departments? Across the company? Sometimes the case for integration doesn’t support the cost of getting there.
There is a lot of mistrust and resistance to IT projects today. To some degree, vendors brought it on themselves during the past decade by hyping and selling a lot of things customers didn’t necessarily need. In response, companies are often hesitant to move forward with projects they do need. The resulting technology stagnation can be very disruptive and harmful to the bottom line, but can be effectively countered by simply taking back control.
Companies need to invest the time to understand what they need today, and to find partners they can trust to sell them only what they need, and only what can be delivered.
BRAD WEALAND is vice president of the Consulting Division at Systems Evolution, which provides software development solutions, EPM consulting, managed network support and permanent placement. Reach Wealand at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web site www.systemsevolution.com.