Everything that I’m going to write about in this post SHOULD be obvious.
In my experience as an information professional and now salesperson, many businesses are oblivious to how obvious this should be.
Let’s start with this: Throwing technology at a business problem will not solve the business problem.
Technology is not a silver bullet to fix business problems. For example, many companies follow business processes because they’ve always had those processes. They often don’t think about how to improve ineffective processes because “that’s just how we do things.” If you automate a bad process with workflow software, you’ll reach the same poor outcome -- only faster.
IT projects often fail, don’t provide expected return on investment, and/or need to be reworked half-way through.
I’m sure you’ve heard at least one of these two sayings:
Measure twice, cut once.
There’s never time to do it right, but there’s always time to do it again.
They both identify a core issue with IT projects -- poor planning. Here are a few common planning mistakes businesses -- from the Fortune 100 down to one-person businesses -- regularly make.
Poor planning often starts with shiny object syndrome. Many business owners hear about a technology -- like the cloud, for instance -- and start thinking, “AHA! There’s the answer to my productivity issues! I need that for my business.”
Sometimes they’re right. Most of the time, this is just distraction by shiny object syndrome (to which many business leaders are susceptible). By the way, shiny object syndrome is a real issue and is written about frequently.
No Defined Outcome
What do you want to accomplish? You must identify your business goals and (as much as possible) quantify them. Do you want to provide better customer service? How? Speed delivery? Have a person answer every call? A 30 minute response to every customer email? Each answer comes with a different set of technology and staffing requirements.
While there is some truth in the idea of fail fast, fail forward; starting too soon will usually kill your IT project. Don’t rush. It’s a fast-paced world, but don’t rush to an answer. Identify the scope of the project. Do the hard, up front work of identifying your business processes -- and remember that perfection is the enemy of the good. Decide where your 80% of business needs met and 20% “nice-to-haves” line is and don’t let a project fail because you won’t reach the “nice-to-haves.”
You can’t create a successful IT project in a vacuum. Include the people who will be affected by the new system in your planning. When appropriate, include their feedback on necessary features and functionalities and be sure to set expectations to prevent negative support from this key group.
While you probably won’t be 100% accurate, establish a budget during planning sufficient to accomplish your goals. Wise companies include training in this budget, as lack of training can cause new systems to be underused.
Lack of Clear Deadlines
We could write an entire series of posts (and even books) about project management. Not adhering to deadlines and keeping project members on schedule will mean a project that never wraps up, has costs overruns, is poorly implemented, or is abandoned (usually some combination of these four things). Without someone to manage the project and keep everyone on time, you’ll fail. Additionally, project management is a difficult skill and one that most companies overestimate their in-house abilities to manage a project.
There are many of other reasons projects fail -- underfunding, understaffing, poor project management, scope creep, lack of expertise, and others.
However, every successful project begins with a solid plan. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be well on your way to success!