Planning to Fail    



Making a mess of an IT project is easier than you may think. Try out the pitfalls below and soon enough the project will fail.

Let’s kill the project before it starts:
  • First start out with a business goal which is unclear. Without this clear goal the project will die in infancy. No one involved will know why they’re participating. On top of that you probably won’t receive approval from the key decision makers.

  • The next step is to make sure you, or more importantly your team, are unaware of what the successful project will look like. It’s hard to succeed when success isn’t spelled out.

  • Next, let’s make sure no one is committed to the project. Commitment is needed from those who will work on the project and from management. Without commitment to the project’s successful completion, people won’t participate in the project. Management will assign resources somewhere else. And team members will find just about anything else to do rather than the project.

  • In baseball they say it is best to keep your eye on the ball. Trust me when I say that there is nothing wrong with keeping your eye on the ball. Remember though that you will still have to run the bases. A good player watches everything on the field, as well as the ball. If you don’t, if you aren’t watching the other players, you may not see the big picture. You may miss a steal. Focusing on one detail means you’re missing the others. This is a great way to cause a project to fail too. IT systems are complex and intertwined; so now you have a chance to kill other projects and systems too.

  • Finally, procrastination is a terrific antidote to success. Lacking a well defined deadline or perhaps one that is exceptionally far away results in putting off until tomorrow over and over until it’s too late.
But if you get started, you have more opportunities:
  • Changing the business needs after kickoff is effective. Midway through the project talk management into changing these if they already haven’t done so on their own. Disaster will follow quickly. Team members and resources allocated to the project won’t be the right fit for the job. The project will undergo a quick and painful death.

  • Try surprising people. Don’t tell team members you’re going to need them. Just assume they are sitting, waiting to help you with your latest task. Better yet, surprise your suppliers with short deadlines.

  • Perhaps your business needs haven’t changed. No reason to leave the project scope alone though. Add scope creep to the plan. This is the T1000 Terminator for every project. Your team will enjoy adding enhancements and extra features. And they are adding time and costs to the project. If you really encourage them, they may step outside their areas of expertise creatively. Such badly built extra features can only help a project fail faster.

  • Don’t communicate with your team. Keep them guessing. Talking and exchanging emails is time consuming, even tiresome. It is easier for everyone to work in isolation knowing everyone will complete their assigned tasks by the due date. Everything will be fine.

  • Add another project to the pile or perhaps three. Why limit yourself and your team to only one disaster.
But what if you finish the project on schedule?
  • Don’t test your work. When the project is finished, hand over the project. No testing is a sure way to fail. But if you do some testing, don’t use well-defined testing methods. No one will know if the project meets the business needs.
Failing to Fail
Got it? There are any number of pitfalls in managing a project through to success. By avoiding them, you may just prevent project failure.

I have found that by writing a short mission statement for the project, you can go goes a long way to ensuring its success. The mission statement should be clear, concise and written in terms that everyone understands. Here’s an example:

At the end of this project we will have full connectivity across the network. Any node on the network will be able to PING any other node on the network regardless of physical location or connectivity type. We need full connectivity by 9am on April 1, 2013.

Consider naming the project as well so that it can be easily discussed around the water cooler. This one is our April connectivity project. You might also add the business goal the project will serve. For example: All business users will have full access to our working documents.

The technical aspects of the project will be more complicated. So don’t state them here. Some stakeholders such as those in higher management may not know what EIGRP, OSPF or BGP refer to. Nor do they need to. But they will understand that the network will have full connectivity. The goal is simple, the execution complicated.

Our sample mission statement has a goal, a test method and a due date. This is something the IT department can take away and work with. During the project the team will communicate with each other on progress, needs and expectations. They’ll watch for how introduced changes will impact the rest of your IT systems. At the end the IT team can produce test results which show the goal stated in the mission has been met.

By avoiding these pitfalls, you’ll be well on your way to successful IT projects. The entire organization benefits.

Orginally published Feb, 2013

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