Successful IT implementation through effective project management

James Paterson
October 17, 2013

Studies undertaken by organisations like PriceWaterhouse Coopers, Gartner and TechRepublic consistently find poor project management is the primary reason major IT implementations fail. The most optimistic studies identify poor project management as the primary cause in 39% of cases while other studies report figures up to 95%. A failed project was typically defined as one delivered late, over budget, out of scope or ultimately cancelled.

Project managers lead an IT implementation project from beginning to end. They have ultimate responsibility for its effective planning and execution so it’s no surprise the burden of project success is placed on their shoulders.

Every technology implementation is as different and unique as the organisation it will serve. Therefore, a single approach to implementation will never suit every single project. Organisations should assess which project management methodology suits their business objectives, budget, timeline and culture. The role of the project manager is also key in any IT implementation. They have ultimate responsibility for effective planning and execution.

Project managers have to develop close relationships with customers and clearly understand their requirements. Knowing the business drivers for the implementation means you can be certain to deliver what customers really need, not necessarily what you or they think they need.

Implementation approaches

Typically implementation approaches can be grouped under three main categories: agile; phased and rapid.

Agile
The agile approach minimises risk by encouraging change, even late in the project. It focuses on collaboration and constant communication between teams of experts and stakeholders to deliver iterations of the software at clearly defined intervals. These working pieces of software are the signposts of success in the agile methodology.

This method offers adaptive planning, evolutionary development and delivery, allowing a more rapid and flexible response to change throughout the implementation process.

With clear communication from both sides, everyone is aware of their responsibilities and deadlines. Structured, regular meetings and reports means customers can see exactly where the project is and can ask for changes early in the process.

Phased
The phased or ‘waterfall’ approach is sequential and linear. The objective is to completely finish each logical step in the development process before moving onto the next. While you can go back to make modifications if necessary, progress should flow from one stage to the next.

Commencing with pre-implementation analysis, the ‘phased’ implementation approach provides all the detail and security a customer needs to achieve go-live on time and on budget. The team should work closely with customers throughout each phase of the implementation to ensure the project moves forward as anticipated and if any issues arise, they are addressed as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This approach is ideal when the customer knows exactly what they want at the beginning of the process and is unlikely to change their mind. There are a number of benefits to using the phased approach, including the ability to accurately estimate time and costs up front. Because each phase must be finished before the next is begun, customers can clearly see the progress that is being made. This approach also reduces the chance of the schedule slipping, since everything has been timed and estimated before the implementation work begins.

Rapid
Sometimes projects need to be delivered as quickly as possible and there is no time for customisation. This is where a rapid approach is ideal. Suitable for industry-specific or ‘out-of-the-box’ implementations, rapid implementations are designed to cut down the implementation time as much as possible.

The template approach speeds up the implementation process and ensures a low risk and low cost delivery.

Good project management matters

A project manager can make or break the project. Regardless of the specific approach or combination of approaches used, a good project manager is essential for success. One of the most critical factors is having clear communication and a documented plan. It’s not enough to have a project manager, you need to have someone who knows what they’re doing and can keep everyone accountable.

A strong project manager can help deliver the implementation faster, more cost-efficiently and provide a better return on investment. Great project managers keep a project on schedule and within budget, with both eyes fixed on the business goals, not just their project management goals.

The best project managers are certified in a range of project management methodologies, with plenty of real life experience behind them. They can competently recommend and implement the right approach for your business or your specific project.

Customers should be asked what their priorities are and they should be kept in mind throughout the process. It’s important to focus on the project itself rather than just the implementation. A good project manager will ensure that scope changes are accommodated without compromising the overall implementation project.

The bottom line

Investing up front in the right methodology and a good project manager can mean the difference between success and failure for a project. Completing the project on time, within budget and according to the agreed scope will mean your organisation can start realising the benefits of the technology implementation sooner.

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James Paterson
James Paterson is a senior executive of project management at UXC Eclipse. He has more than 22 years' project management experience, including 14 years in software implementations. James has a Masters in Business Management from Napier University and runs his own family business.
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