When organizations undertake software implementations, they do not anticipate failure despite the risks associated with such complex projects. Rather, they plan for success, governed by their budgets, deliverables, executive expectations and go-live deadlines. Yet despite their best efforts at project management, failure rates remain high.
Software implementations fail for variety of reasons, including lack of top management commitment, unrealistic expectations, poor requirements definition, improper package selection, gaps between software and business requirements, inadequate resources, unrealistic budgets and schedules, poor project management, lack of project management methodology, underestimating the impact of change, lack of training and education, and-—last but not least-—poor communication.
With such a laundry list of failure factors, improving the odds of software implementation success seems impossible, but it can be accomplished. It begins with a blueprint of strategic project assurance at critical points in the implementation. Such a project assurance blueprint establishes a clear understanding of expectations among all people involved—from business and IT management to vendor partners and end users.
The Need for Project Assurance
Project assurance is about making sure that projects are delivered on time, on-budget, with client acceptance. Having project assurance as part of a large-scale software implementation helps you:
- control/reduce project costs
- ensure milestones are met
- minimize surprises
- provide objective analysis
- provide peace of mind and trust among executives and project team members
Project Assurance methodologies are based on the following best practices:
1. Identify the real issues. At the leadership level, you need to develop an executive dialog that allows business and organizational issues to be identified and analyzed with clarity and without emotion. Continue this dialog throughout the implementation process. Remove organizational barriers both within the organization and with third-party vendors. All parties should be aligned with the common goal of project success.
2. Set realistic time frames. Don’t rely on the existing schedule. Many organizations will set overly optimistic go-live dates despite the realities and limitations of the actual project. For example, the design phase extends, but the time line doesn’t. You must monitor project progress throughout the implementation and start discussions regarding key project dates early in the project’s lifecycle to avoid downstream impacts.
3. Align the work streams. You need to identify, align and continuously monitor work streams to ensure smooth progress throughout the organization. Understand dependencies between work streams during project plan development to ensure proper resource allocations and project time frames. Continue to monitor the interdependencies throughout the project.
4. Look beyond the indicators. Contrary to popular opinion, green may actually be red. Realistic monitoring and analysis of the implementation’s progress can show that even though all project management indicators are green, warning signs indicate endangered components. If indicators are only addressing past phases, but not addressing readiness for upcoming project tasks and activities, they are definitely trailing indicators and not trustworthy predictions of the future.
5. Manage the expectations. Critical to maintaining control of the project, you need to manage the confluence of overly optimistic go-live dates against outside influences and interdependencies, such as available resources and realistic expectations. Set realistic expectations upfront and keep expectations current in the minds of project team members so that they don’t lose sight of the forest while maneuvering around a tree.
6. Seek objectivity. Assessments conducted by an outside expert add both value to the project implementation and protection against the high cost of failure. Expertise delivers the know-how and the objective oversight needed to overcome organizational roadblocks. It also provides you with peace of mind. Assessments should be conducted by an executive project manager or software implementation expert who has managed enough projects successfully to know how to recognize subtle indicators, intervene to accommodate the situation, and adjust expectations accordingly.
Employing a project assurance methodology empowers you to go beyond traditional project management barriers and gives you the answers you need to ensure project success. It helps you identify and resolve the strategic, tactical and intangible issues, and manage the human factors before issues become insurmountable. And best of all, project assurance gives you (and everyone else involved) peace of mind that the project is on the right track.
Rob Prinzo is founder and CEO of The Prinzo Group, which provides project assurance services. He is also the author of No Wishing Required: The Business Case for Project Assurance.