How to Successfully Execute IT Projects Without Fail

Today's IT solution providers are under many of the same constraints as their customers: Do more with less, deliver on-time, offer competitive pricing. Its easy to get lost in the details, but losing site of the big picture can cost VARs customers and money. Here, the CEO of Journyx, a project management software company, shares best practices of project management. — Jennifer Bosavage, editor

More than 30 percent of IT projects fail because they are either substantially late or exceeded their prescribed budgets, according to research from Gartner. That is an intimidating figure, especially as it coincided with our country slipping into its worst recession in decades. Now, as our economy struggles to improve, we should attempt to learn from our cash-strapped experiences and improve the ways in which we manage our project work.

In today's knowledge-worker economy, IT solution providers need to devote their energies to tracking resources against project performance. It's not enough to measure physical input vs. output to calculate ROI. Companies analyze the use of human resources against target schedule, cost, and quality. Only through careful analysis and reporting can an organization develop a comprehensive understanding of:

• Who is working on which project?
• How can we get a project back on schedule?
• How much more work is required?
• What is the real ROI for each project?

Areas of Failure in IT Projects

Resource Management
Finding the right person to put on each job can be challenging for many organizations, yet it is essential for successfully completing projects and maximizing human resource effectiveness. IT work should not merely be categorized by skill type or job functions, but also by the availability and capability of your team members in specific work scenarios. Understanding who you have to call upon and when they are available is crucial for getting the project done on time and within budget. An inability to see and quickly understand resource allocation – especially during moments of crisis – dramatically increases the risk of failure.

Executive Decision-Making
Projects rarely succeed without executive support, yet it's uncommon for executives to have easy access to the right real-time project information. Most often, executives make do with simple percentage-complete or other high-level “health check” statistics, but those do not add sufficient value in the decision-making process if the lower-level details are not correct and timely. An executive dashboard is only as good as the information that generates it. All too often, the data feeding these dashboards is inaccurate.

Project Management
Project managers are responsible for keeping projects on track, but how can they do this without an adequate system in place to help monitor progress and schedules? Without effective processes, project managers will tread on the toes of their team members in order to get status reports and project information. Good leadership requires easy access to information and simple communication, but too rarely are these present in project scenarios.

Solutions To Project Shortcomings

Track Time Data Against Schedules
The best way to monitor project performance is to actually track it against projected schedules. To achieve this, accurate time data must be collected for each task and team member. Rather than asking, “What percent complete are you?” and getting back the same answer of “90 percent” every time, ask how many hours have been put into a task and how many hours will be required to finish it. That may also return percentage answers, but the figures will be more representative of the truth.

Armed with a more-realistic percentage complete information, the project leader should then be able to compare the completion estimates to the established schedule to monitor project progress. With this information, you will know early on which tasks are getting out of hand so that you can adjust schedules and reassign resources accordingly. Don't wait until the last moment to notice delayed delivery; stay on top of schedules with real time data from project teams.

Make Accurate Data Accessible To Executives
Data for executive sponsors should be easily consumable and focus attention on critical tasks. Executives should be able to tell at a glance what's in trouble or what's about to be in trouble, and with this information make the correct decisions for resource allocation. Furthermore, it's important for executives to stay on top of the information to be able to adjust for crises and manage portfolio priorities.

Visibility Into Resource Allocation
Every organization has a few key players that always seem to be overbooked. When one of those resources gets ill or goes on vacation, the organization can only hold its breath and hope that they make it out to the other side alive.

On the flip side of the equation, there are always a few resources that nobody seems to want on board. Proper resource management will not only identify these resources, but work to balance out their assignments to a sustainable level. Perhaps those weak resources just need a little bit of high level mentoring or a little practice out on the field. Also, if your key resources are always overbooked, they'll be more likely to develop disdain for their work or start to commit sloppy mistakes. Know your resources and keep everyone at their optimal assignment levels to get the most from your team.

The Bottom Line

In a knowledge worker economy, time tracking is key to understanding work investments and determining ROIs. Use this data to monitor schedules, reallocate resources, and keep projects driving toward completion.