Every project is an opportunity for success. No organization starts a system integration or upgrade with the goal of failure. But there are a few things you can do to improve your chances for achieving your goals. An easy way to look at this is in three broad categories: Planning, Execution and Communication.
Plan the Project You Want
What is the goal of the project and specific metrics of success? Do you want to improve employee efficiency? Do you want to decrease store out of stocks? Are you executing a transition to meet some overall business need, like an acquisition? Line up your specific goals and set your project up to meet those goals. And don’t forget to include sufficient time for testing and training.
One key to setting the scope of the project is to ensure that the business partners most directly involved are included in the planning up front. They need to buy in from the start and understand their role in the project.
Now that you have the stakeholders involved and a clear set of goals, ensure you have a realistic timeline for completion. Your project team has only so many bodies and hours in the day to complete their work. Understand the limitations and set expectations. Plan for the unknown. Every project will have its unexpected occurrences. A timeline that has no cushion for issue resolution, for vacations, for staff changes, will often lead to problems down the road.
If outside factors require you push up a completion date, don’t simply change the date on the plan. Some aspect of the scope must change. Something has to give. Make sure what you change is not going to cause other knock-on effects, and that your changes are clearly communicated and agreed upon by the team.
Execute the Project You Need
It’s easy to let the IT group drive the project, but in a vacuum that can lead to results that the business may dislike or even reject. The business stakeholders need to understand what’s happening as it happens.
Status meetings are a part of communication, but maintaining a log of ongoing issues, questions and concerns is vital. It gives the team a day-by-day road map of what they need to work on. Decisions that come out of status meetings and from working out issues should be documented and dispersed to the team.
As steps are completed and aspects of the project are made ready, quality assurance testing is next. Your plan has time allotted to these tasks, and they cannot be given short shrift. Thorough testing and documentation serve several purposes. The most important is the validation of the new project deliverable. This also serves as an indicator to the user community that this project is trustworthy. It serves as a roadmap for training the users in the system’s usage. And it serves as the first draft of testing for any future enhancements. A clear and precise test plan saves time and money today and tomorrow.
Inevitably, as the project is underway, there will be pressure to make course corrections. These might come from the business as new functionality requests, or these might come from the IT group as alternate approaches to obstacle that arise. Don’t let these changes damage your ability to meet your original goals. If the change to the plan has an impact to time, risk or cost, it’s crucial to provide the team the impact of the change, and for the stakeholders to agree that the impact is worth the benefits.
Communicate for Success
What is the one thing, more than any other, that will ensure project success? Communication.
If your business stakeholders tell you what they want, and if you tell them how much it will cost and how long it will take, that is the foundation of a solid project plan. If you have regular status meetings on the state of the project, and document the successes and obstacles as they occur, you can keep the project on track. If you make the user community aware of the changes, and train them appropriately, your hard work will yield results.
Keeping the lines of communication open ensures that the three groups of people involved in the project (stakeholders, delivery team, and end users) are all working in lockstep to make your project as successful as it can be.