Effective Planning Is Key to Keeping IT Projects on Track

Launching an IT project without a well-developed project plan is like traveling to a strange city without a map — there’s a good chance you’ll get lost, wandering around aimlessly and potentially winding up in a dangerous predicament.

As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. The Project Management Institute (PMI) reports that 14 percent of all IT projects fail— and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Of the projects that aren’t outright failures, 49 percent don’t meet their deadlines, 43 percent exceed their budgets and 31 percent don’t achieve their goals.

To reduce the risk of unexpected events, implementation delays and other factors that can derail projects, organizations should establish a project plan that addresses these elements:

Clarify your objectives. Projects with poorly defined goals and objectives are far more likely to experience scope creep, cost overruns and delays. For example, it isn’t enough to launch a web site redesign project with the goal of increasing sales. You must be able to establish and define specific features required to reach that goal, such as mobile compatibility, fresh content, better organization or improved security.

Define the process. IT projects require a structured approach to planning and implementation using repeatable processes with clearly defined objectives and milestones for measuring progress. A well-defined methodology helps ensure that important tasks aren’t overlooked and keeps the project moving forward. Projects lacking this structure are more prone to failure, and stakeholders may not even be able to recognize when things are going off the rails. Without established objectives and milestones, companies are far more likely to continue pouring time and money into failing projects.

Marshal your resources. The project will involve some combination of software, hardware, personnel and funding. Accurately scoping the project in advance will help ensure that you have the right technology, the right expertise and the budget required to accomplish the project’s objectives. If you don’t have the expertise in-house and need to find a partner, it is best to know that upfront rather than trying to scramble for resources in the middle of the project.

Communicate with stakeholders. IT projects aren’t just for IT — they impact the entire organization. Get continuous feedback from company leadership and the people who will be using the solution to ensure you are meeting their requirements. A project is only successful if it meets the expectations of the people who must use it.

Anticipate the unexpected. The PMI study found that 27 percent of all IT project failures are the result of unexpected risks. So-called “black swan” events that were believed to be highly unlikely can be particularly catastrophic.A North Carolina State University study found that these events cause projects to cost 200 percent more and take 70 percent longer to complete than expected. Budgets and timelines must reflect the possibility that unforeseen circumstances could have a significant impact.

There’s no easy roadmap for IT projects. Shifting priorities and rapid changes in technology can create moving targets. Nevertheless, effective project planning with clearly defined objectives, processes and requirements are essential for keeping projects on track and minimizing the possibility of failures that waste time, money and other valuable resources.