There is an old, wise saying: “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
In this day of instant results, vast amounts of data, and artificial intelligence, there is still no better teacher than experience. For difficult tasks in life, the wise person will seek advice from those who have successfully navigated similar challenges.
The same principle holds true for complex projects.
Projects Come with Unique Challenges
Everyone has a different story about their particular project outcome, and many are happy to provide advice for your project. While that can be helpful, keep in mind that no two projects are ever the same.
Given that nearly 70% of IT projects have significant cost or schedule overruns or do not meet project objectives, each organization should perform their own analysis to determine how to plan for success instead of winging it and hoping for the best.
Common Assumptions to Avoid
Every project sponsor has an idea of what the challenges will be for their initiative. However, many of these ideas are based upon misinformation and faulty assumptions such as:
Existing personnel will have the bandwidth and experience to manage the project.
The reality is that employees have a day job that requires their attention. Plans to backfill permanent positions with supplemental staff often go awry because these positions require extensive training or knowledge that allows employees to dedicate all of their time to the project.
Even competent, experienced internal project managers often lack the expertise needed to nurture a truly complicated or massive effort.
The vendor will have your best interest in mind when making suggestions or providing information about the system.
Vendors lean toward selling and implementing modules of their own systems where they have the most experience and/or lack key functionality to meet the company’s requirements. This can skew their recommendations away from what would be best for your project and organization, in favor of solutions that offer the vendor more incentives or familiarity.
A key example of this assumption for accounting
Some items are not critical to the immediate project, so they can be deferred until there is more time.
and finance projects involves delaying the chart of accounts. The problem with putting this off is that the chart drives all of the back-end processing, such as reporting and budgeting. So this deferral will not provide the results you need, and often it is impossible (or extensive work is required) to make the change after implementation.
Organizations are often ready to move forward immediately after implementation to “catch up” on priorities that have been placed on the back burner, and don’t have the patience to document the new system and business processes. This will cause havoc when the auditors arrive and expect to see the new documentation.
Furthermore, during the stabilization period after going live, employees that are introduced to the new systems and processes don’t have a solid working knowledge of the changes. If system users are given proper attention and time to learn and grow, the benefits of efficiencies will grow exponentially.
How Can You Learn What You Don’t Know?
At TAC4 Solutions, we’ve combined our experience working with complex or troubled projects to develop key questions that will help you determine what type of project you are facing.
Some key indicators of a complex project
- Multiple companies (e.g., vendor and customer, multiple vendors) are involved
- Multiple departments are involved
- New Interfaces will be created and deployed
- IT / QA standards will change
- Budgets of $500K or more (with complexity exponentially growing with orders of magnitude)
- Multiple system environments (Dev vs. Test vs. Prod)
- The project team hasn’t worked together
- There’s a high level of interest from senior leadership
- The new system will be key to the central business operations of the organization
- Project Managers/team members are new to complex projects
- Multiple requirements are needed for multiple users
- Extensive post-implementation resources are required to support the system
There are many more items that indicate the project will be a difficult implementation, but if you begin by analyzing each of the areas above, you will have a better picture of what is ahead.
Why Do These Questions Matter?
- Managing multiple environments requires a mature change management process and solid IT disciplines.
- Internal interfaces will need to be reconstructed, and external interfaces will require help from the vendor, which typically extends the deadline.
- An early and extensive analysis of requirements, along with agreement from ALL users regarding the rank of importance, will focus the emphasis on value-added deliverables.
- Weak connection of high-level objectives to detailed tasks requires multiple changes throughout the system build.
- Project team members who have seldom worked on a complex project do not understand what to expect or how to react to problems when they arise.
- Multiple requirements from multiple system users will impact the training tools and process.
- Not ensuring the product can be supported post-project can lock the company into an undesirable position.
How Can We Protect Ourselves?
If you don’t have internal project managers with experience in handling complexity, hire an external service that has proven knowledge and a track record of successful delivery.
Although the factors listed below are essential for every project, their importance grows exponentially in a complex project:
Critical Project Management Factors
- Lack of project rigor (e.g., scope creep, no backlog prioritization)
- Ignoring problems the moment they arise
- Being optimistic with estimates
- Not able to manage all pieces of the project
- Not pushing back on unreasonable deadlines
- Leaving sponsors and key stakeholders out of the loop until it is too late
If you believe your project has indications of complexity, TAC4 can provide a review of your answers to the key questions so that you can be prepared for a successful rollout. Connect with us to schedule a free consultation.