Top 10 Project Strategy Mistakes

Donn Di Nunno   (February 9, 2006) Project managers mustlearn from past mistakes, or they're doomed to repeat them. Here are 10 of themost common missteps that jeopardize IT projects, with recommendations on howyou and your organization

 Successful project managers incorporate thelessons of past projects — both successful and unsuccessful — to ensure theirIT deployments are as efficient and effective as possible. Failure to look tothe past leads organizations to make the same errors repeatedly in technologystrategy development and implementation. History repeats itself.

Mistakes and failures in communications,planning, documentation and organization can doom an IT deployment. By heedinglessons learned, organizations can avoid landmines and their disastrousconsequences.

 Wise project managers have learned to avoidthe following 10 most common mistakes.

 1: Identifying a new technology and thentrying to develop ways to apply it

Projects succeed or fail based on theiralignment with business requirements. Organizations often try to back intotechnology plans, attempting to match them with elusive potential businessgains based on vendor promises. While technology presents opportunities foraltering business capabilities, connections must be carefully analyzed andpilot business metrics clearly defined.

2: Failing to ensure projects arebusiness-driven

Organizations have recognized the value oftechnology, and many restructured around the CIO, providing large budgets andeven larger technology expectations. This creates an opportunity forstandardization and synergy, yet an IT-led project must still be driven bybusiness objectives. Any central IT function must have active outreach programsto business groups to constantly improve the project portfolio, requirementsidentification, project metric determination and project management functions.

3: Not managing assets from a balancedportfolio perspective

Many projects run over budget as a resultof an incomplete estimation of cost factors. The purchase price of hardwareand/or software does not cover the full lifecycle costs including licensing,maintenance, training and transition. In addition to ensuring accurate projectcost estimates, managers need to manage resources across projects and projectsacross organizational risks and priorities. Attempting to implement a newtechnology without considering the implications of supporting it dooms aninitiative to failure.

4: Failing to assess priorities and capabilitiesbefore committing to plan and schedule

The IT landscape is littered with failedprojects that underestimated the impact of technology projects onorganizational processes, metrics, reporting structures, customer perceptionsand employee skills or morale. Setting deadlines and then filling in the tasksto meet those deadlines is a common formula for disaster. Plans that aren’trealistic fail.

5: Not identifying and implementing riskmitigation scenarios

New projects often start with rosyscenarios, only minimally aware of potential risks. While this enthusiasm helpsdrive project momentum, it often does not prepare the organization for thelikely consequences. A good project plan should identify the risks to projectsuccess, including non-technical risks such as vendor viability, employeeresistance and potential changes to organizational variables such ascompetitive pressures and reduction of resources.

6: Not learning from poorly performingprojects

As long as project development managersbase project selection on promises that other maintenance managers will have todeliver, measuring project performance will remain elusive. Executives andsponsors have learned to break large projects into smaller deliveries and toleverage intermediate gains — rather than promises — to justify furtherinvestments. 

Without comparing expected to actualbusiness results, the organization’s project management process remainsunpredictable. To this end, IT strategy development can benefit frompost-project audits. These audits improve future strategies by incorporatinglessons learned. Managing these efforts in a fault-free environment encouragesfrank assessments of project success.

7: Inadequate communication with businessstaff

Technicians often communicate with othertechnicians and their management. IT staff must also communicate to a wideraudience to build support for the new project and its implementation.Communication should include the expected business results of the project,matrices including a schedule of expected changes for relevant stakeholders anda summary project status. Frequent communication with stakeholders in their ownterminology is necessary to ensure the project is progressing according toexpectations.

8: Enabling “rogue” IT projects

Organizations whose centralized ITfunctions aren’t meeting the needs of the business areas often find themselveswith unofficial or “rogue” efforts funded and managed by their business areas.Rogue IT projects can be a valuable aid in improving an organization’stechnology health by focusing attention on new or improved opportunities fortechnology business services. While such projects are more likely to achievetheir business metrics, they suffer from lack of integration with otherefforts. Costs for such rogue projects are often duplicative.


9: Failing to integrate new systems withexisting investments

Print a comprehensive systems and softwarelist from any fairly large organization and you’ll find a kludge ofarchitectures, languages, databases and telecommunication protocols. While it’simpossible to perfectly anticipate the future, it’s crucial to construct amodular architecture that provides flexible integration of these systemstogether with an adaptable path for future technologies. This architectureshould be updated on a regular basis as new tools and technologies becomeavailable.


10: Inadequate governance, knowledgemanagement and documentation

Project documentation should includemeasurable business metrics that can be audited and updated based uponoutcomes. Documentation should include detailed records of all changes toprocesses, related applications and databases so that those not activelyinvolved in the development effort are able to track the sources of failuresafter implementation. Knowledge of technology strategy often exists only in thehead (or the files) of the project manager. Providing accessible and accurateperformance documentation enables effective project governance.

A Framework for Improvement

Improving your organization’s approach foralignment, integration and project management can help you avoid theconsequences of executing a flawed IT strategy. Doing so will significantlyimprove the success of your IT efforts.

 A good place to start is to identifylessons learned and ensure they are incorporated in your metrics and processes.Constantly assess the relationship between technology, process and culture andreview the effectiveness of IT as seen through the business lines.

 No one should be spending time or moneyreinventing the wheel. Good communications, thorough documentations and askingthe right questions at the outset and during critical stages of theimplementation are good ways of avoiding the mistakes and the appearance ofboth ignorance and arrogance in technology management. By learning fromhistory, we can avoid repeating it.

Donn Di Nunno is an expert in metrics forsoftware process and product improvement with over 29 years in softwareengineering. Di Nunno's areas of specialization include: IT metrics andmeasurement; quality management and process improvement; data analysis; systemsre-engineering; design recovery; and IT portfolio management. Dr. DiNunno isthe chief engineer for EM&I, a project management company.



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