Why do IT projects get stuck and what can you do about it?

We work with a wide range of SMEs of different sizes and in different sectors. Each client is unique, but we’ve been very surprised by the six common situations which we see again and again:

  • an important IT-based project has become “stuck”, perhaps for years, with no-one seemingly able to pick it up and make it happen
  • the Board are unhappy with the internal IT team, perhaps they have lost confidence or they just don’t seem to talk the same language anymore
  • there’s a need to make an important decision about a new IT supplier or to dramatically improve management of IT suppliers
  • the company, it’s processes, technology and operations feel like they’re not integrated – technology issues are frequent; there are operational inefficiencies and errors; management information is not available or is inconsistent
  • bespoke software is sapping time and money, rarely delivers and this is becoming a major issue or a missed opportunity
  • the Board feel unhappy and uncertain about contractual or regulatory compliance, risks, readiness of disaster recovery plans, costs or other unknowns.

We see many examples of IT-based projects which become “stuck” … either half way through, or before they’ve even started!

Why do projects get stuck and how can you avoid it?

IT projects often become stuck because they are complicated, most SME boards do not have a great deal of experience/confidence with these kinds of projects, and are often reliant for expert advice on suppliers who have their own axes to grind.

The result might be that the project progresses for a while until it’s just not obvious what to do next… and then the easiest decision is simply to not really make a decision. The project can end up on the “too difficult pile”. We see many examples of this scenario that we call stuck projects.

What steps can you take to try to break out of this?

Genuine ownership

Firstly, someone on the Board must personally own the project, be genuinely interested and have time to understand it, nurture it and have the authority to make decisions! Someone (probably a different person) must have time to manage the project on a day to day basis and must see this as their priority rather than something they do if they get a bit of spare time.

Clear objectives and scope

The scope of the project (i.e. what’s in and what’s out) must be clear from the start and the business objectives must be defined. Business objectives are rarely going to be to deliver some IT… for example, it’s not really an objective to deliver a new back-office system; the real objective might be to reduce admin costs by 10% or to enable the delivery of new product catalogues within 4 weeks.

Seeing the objectives for what they really are helps you to see the full range of things you need to do in order to deliver – from improved training to sorting out process or data issues. It ensures that you engage with all the people who are going to need to be part of the solution and to identify in black and white everything that needs to happen to achieve success.

Progress reporting

Thirdly, there’s an old saying “What gets reported, gets done.” If you want things to happen on the project, demand regular reports and be interested in what is within them. The report must contain the risks and issues because projects do derail and the risks and issues is where you should see that coming. Always remember that the key question is not really: what has been done so far? it’s actually: what now is remaining to be done? The team may tell you they’ve achieved a lot and had a great week, but don’t get deflected from the key question: how long will it take to finish!

Projects are not completed until they deliver the business benefits that were outlined in the project scope back when the project was conceived. You need to have a method for tracking these benefits otherwise focus will very quickly be lost and people’s diaries will quickly fill up with business-as-usual.

These 3 steps can help you to unstick a project and get back on track towards delivering the benefits you were originally focussed on. Companies can be revolutionised by getting IT projects right – simplifying and streamlining how you work internally, or how you work with partners, suppliers or customers. Getting IT projects right can significantly increase revenues as well as decreasing costs.

This is a guest blog by Graeme Freeman of Freeman Clarke:

Graeme Freeman
Co-Founder and Director
Freeman Clarke
07977 551742 / 0203 020 1864
Skype: Graeme_freemanclarke