7 software strategies I learned while sitting in traffic

Software lifecycle management and freeway construction management share some common uncertainty and risks, but whether you're installing roads or software, you can manage by adopting these sound strategies.

traffic freeway interchange
Credit: weifang

I live in Houston, Texas, the fourth largest city in the United States. Freeways are the network that connects the city to the suburbs. Freeway construction here seems endless, with a handful of complex projects in progress at any given time. 

Last month, the Houston Chronicle reported that contractor Tradeco defaulted on a 38-mile segment of a $1.8 billion freeway project. Resuming construction will take three months. This contractor was declared in default on three other projects. Why didn’t alarms go off regarding this project?

About 15 years ago, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) contracted repaving of the elevated portion of the Gulf Freeway that runs through downtown. This April, TxDOT announced they will raze and relocate this roadway. Why didn’t they anticipate that years ago?

Software lifecycle management and construction management parallels 

Last week, our nearest overpass closed for demolition and replacement with a new freeway configuration. All the orange cones, construction barriers and rerouted lanes remind me of the added risk involved in getting from Point A to Point B until this project is over. What will be different when the project is finished, and how will it help me? 

Sitting in traffic brings to mind the parallels between construction management and software lifecycle management. Like rebuilding a freeway rather than relocating it, I see organizations implement software that:

  • does not meet their needs and account for future growth and
  • automates poor business processes.

Like the construction contractors that default, causing major inconvenience, project delays, and uncertainty, I see organizations select implementation vendors that fail to:

  • understand user needs,
  • properly configure and install the software,
  • manage these complex efforts,
  • identify and communicate risk and
  • address organizational change.

7 software lifecycle management strategies

Organizations can manage uncertainty and risk by adopting sound software lifecycle management strategies. Here are 7 that can set you on the road to meeting your objectives. 

1. Understand the big picture. 

Someone on the team needs to have a “big picture” perspective. First, what are the business and IT drivers for your software initiative? Perhaps you want to remedy compliance issues, shorten time to market or position the company for growth. Second, what are the strategies you will put in place to address these drivers? 

2. Secure executive sponsors. 

Software initiatives with executive sponsorship have a much better chance of success. Identify and engage sponsors who truly support the effort. The most successful enterprise IT projects I have experiences had actively involved sponsors who demonstrated leadership, made the tough decisions when needed, communicated throughout the organization and had earned respect. 

3. Plan, and plan again. 

Time spent planning is time well spent. Since each step in the software lifecycle sets the stage for the next, it is critical to set direction early. Strategy drives the scope of the software effort and the stakeholders involved. Stakeholder needs and priorities drive software evaluation and selection, as well as system design and configuration. And so forth...

Plans are living documents, and will change as the software initiative progresses. Have a process in place to decide which changes to incorporate. 

4. Identify stakeholders and needs. 

Stakeholders include internal parties like operations personnel, corporate staff and management. Stakeholders also include external parties like stockholders and regulatory bodies. Not all stakeholders are users, but all users are stakeholders.  

Define the user population—the specific job roles within the organization, at stated global locations. Identify a core team of representatives and document their consensus business needs and priorities (aka business requirements). Poor business requirements cause problems in over two-thirds of software initiatives, so take the time to clearly and concisely document needs.

5. Document and manage business benefits and risks.

Organizations that state the expected business benefits of their software initiative—and measure how well the solution fulfills these expectations—are more likely to be successful. The risk side of the equation is just as important; what are the risks that could occur, and their severity? 

6. Anticipate and manage organizational change.

New software and IT tools change the way people work. Consider the “people” aspects of your software initiative alongside the technical aspects. 

Organizational change management starts when you start with a concept for your software effort, and parallels the entire lifecycle. Organizational change management efforts range from readiness assessments and user needs surveys to communication plans and communications vehicles, training plans and training, and post-implementation assessments. 

7. Appoint a seasoned facilitator. 

IT projects can become political, very fast. Different stakeholders have different perspectives, different agendas, and different ideas about what is the best technical solution. Also, IT projects should be about the business and the users, not about technology per se. 

Find a seasoned, objective party to help you navigate the software lifecycle, from concept, through business requirements, software evaluation and selection, implementation, and post-implementation. This person must be:

  • fluent in the terminology of strategy, business subject matter and IT,
  • seasoned in directing large, complex projects,
  • able to identify and escalate issues that arise, 
  • a communicator and
  • experienced in producing project deliverables throughout the lifecycle.

Conclusion

If the freeway project sponsors and project management officers were empowered and encouraged to adopt the above strategies, then they could have minimized the impact of project risks and decisions. The next time you start a new software initiative, don’t get stuck in traffic—employ these seven strategies to help meet stakeholder needs and achieve the expected benefits. 

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