How do you ensure your IT projects are on-time, on-budget, and accomplish the goals you set out? Gartner reports that an IT project with a budget over $1M is 50% more likely to fail than one with a budget below $350,000. They site functionality issues and schedule overruns as the top two causes of failure (at 22% and 28% respectively).
We’ve been a part of thousands of IT projects. Some of the processes are large and complex like an on-premise to cloud migration, while others may be equally as important but less intense, like replacement of networking hardware.
Through these projects, we’ve developed a few best practices that we have found lead to projects that are on-time, on-budget, and accomplish the project’s goals.
- Begin with the end in mind
Made famous by the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the concept of beginning with the end in mind is perfect for project management, as it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the end goal when you’re buried in the intricate tasks of the project. Start every project update meeting with a quick overview of the end-goal. Also, we’ve found it helpful to post the end-goal, or the “new reality,” somewhere where we see it every day, so we are reminded of what we’re working towards.
- Assemble the team
No IT project can be managed by one person. Assembling your team will include internal stakeholders, external stakeholders (like software providers, IT partners, etc.), and executive sponsors who are supportive of the project and its goals. Each of the team members have unique talents to add to the project and will contribute to the overall project success.
- Know your budget and timeline
HBR reports that the average IT project exceeds its budget by 27%. Further, at least one in six IT projects has a schedule overrun of 70%, according to HBR. Be clear with your project management team and internal stakeholders about the budget and timeline of the project. In the due diligence phase, ask what factors might lead to an overrun of budget or schedule, and plan accordingly for these factors.
- Set clear expectations
Once you know where you’re going, you have your team assembled, and you know your budget and timeline, you can set clear expectations for every member of the team. Ensure each person knows exactly what their role is in the project. Doing this will help with accountability and will ensure that each person can contribute to the project and knows if he or she is being successful in their contribution.
- Identify the obstacles
Have you ever been through a project, of any kind, that has not had obstacles? We didn’t think so. Identify the potential and expected obstacles at the project kick-off meeting. Then, spend a little time identifying how you will handle those obstacles, should they arise. When you do experience obstacles, you’ll be glad you planned for them.
- Assign a champion
Have you ever heard the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen?” This can be true of project management, too, right? Even though there’s a team of stakeholders involved in a project, identify who will drive the project, be responsible for communicating progress to stakeholders, and ultimately be accountable for the success of the project.
- Define critical milestones
You know the end goal, but what are some milestones along the way that you can identify as checkpoints to ensure the budget and timeline are on track. Try to identify milestones every 2-3 weeks that, if achieved, will likely lead to a successful, on-time, on-budget project.
- Keep open communication
This one seems obvious, but so often team members work in silos, only focusing on their own tasks and not seeing the bigger picture. When we work with clients to migrate to a cloud environment, we have weekly check-in calls during the deployment process to ensure we are all accomplishing our tasks, evaluate how each other’s tasks affect the others, and determine if we’re on track for where we’re headed.
- Use a project management system
Capterra reports that file sharing, time tracking, email integration, Gantt Charts, and budget management are the top five most used and requested features in project management software. Whatever toolset works for your project, ensure the entire team is committed to using the system to maintain consistent communication and maximize results.
- De-brief strategically
The project is complete, you did it! But this won’t be your last IT project, right? So, before you go out for happy hour to celebrate, schedule a post-mortem meeting with the team to discuss what went well, what could have been done better, how obstacles were handled, and overall how the project process went. Doing a post-mortem meeting will allow the entire team to celebrate the wins and learn how to be better for the next project.
The experience during the project management process is a leading indicator of the project’s success. By following project management best practices, you’ll build better camaraderie, more strategic outcomes, and overall, a better project result.