Having managed many IT project successes and a couple of unsuccessful projects over the past 30 plus years prompted me to publish a number of blogs addressing the 10 most common reasons for IT project failure.
After publishing the blogs, I set out to find organizations that did not fit the widely accepted project failure rate of up to 70%. During my research I came across the Toronto based software organization, Jonah Group with a IT project success rate of some 90% as identified in an article in the Toronto Star.
This intrigued me so much that I contacted one of the principals, Jeremy Chan of the Jonah Group, to discuss what they do to ensure a project is successful. Jeremy was very accommodating and we met at their offices on King Street West for over an hour.
My expectation of the office premises was turned upside down as soon as I saw the building’s exterior. Their offices are in a converted industrial building with high ceilings and plenty of open space and light. Unlike the usual cubicles segregating everyone, they had an ideal layout to work in a team environment.
Face-to-face communication is a very important component for successful project management. The project manager and the team members are in constant communication and are able to address any roadblock that arises as the project unfolds. In my blogs I address the need and style of communication that is conducive to project success and it is in accordance with the way the Jonah Group addresses projects.
During our discussion it became evident that the open office concept was not an accident, but a planned component of their organization. Infact, it is indicative of an open corporate culture that is nourished and reinforced by senior management. All employees are encouraged to communicate openly and question concepts and ideas and methods to see if any can be improved. The project teams are focused on the customer’s needs and devote the majority of their effort and time ensuring that the project scope is fully defined and that all stakeholders are fully engaged and in agreement with the stated project requirements and deliverables.
Jeremy believes, and their track record proves, that getting the scope right is a must for project success, whereas an incomplete scope spells project failure. Hearing this was reassuring that in all the years I spent managing projects, I was right in making sure that the users of the project deliverables were fully engaged from the start and had the opportunity and mandate to define the project scope and outcome.
When we got around to discussing the “style” or project management methodology (waterfall, agile, etc.) that the Jonah Group used, the answer is yes to all and in many cases a combination is used. The project management methodology used is dictated by the project requirements not by a strict adherence to any particular methodology. This allows the project manager and the team some flexibility to address the project needs in an optimal manner. I concur with their approach. It is not the project methodology that ensures project success, it is the common sense application of the methodology to best fit the project and the project team.
From the many topics we discussed there was a noticeable theme of truly simple common sense in addition to any formal project management. One of the primary topics concerned the project team mix. It is imperative to acquire the appropriate resources to form the optimal project team. We agreed that there is no amount of formal process that can replace the talent needed to be successful. I had previously flagged this as one of the ten common reasons for project failure in my blogs. It makes sense to have a project team where the team members are interchangeable to minimize the downtime. Keeping the use of highly trained “experts” to a minimum eases any schedule changes that will crop up. It is far better to staff the project with talented generalists rather than a string of “experts”. You can always call in an expert when the need arises.
When I enquired how the Jonah Group addresses “large” projects, the not surprising answer was that a “large” project is nothing more than a group of “small” projects. Further discussion revealed that one of the keys to their project success was the ability to “break” the large project into small projects where each small project delivers a functional component of the large project. I have always maintained that if an IT project takes longer than 6 month and more than 6 people it will most likely fail. Technology changes will make the end result obsolete.
So, did talking with the Jonah Group contradict or reinforce the reasons for IT project failure? While our discussion focused on some of the 10 common reasons for IT project failure, it did touch on them all. The encouraging takeaway from our meeting was that IT projects can achieve over 90% success rate by ensuring that the 10 most common reasons for failure are addressed and healthy dose of common sense is applied.
IT Project Management does NOT need to be complicated, but rather simplified if your goal is to deliver successful projects.