Research indicates that only 29 percent of IT projects are completed successfully (The Standish Group). Why do so many projects fail? The majority of IT leaders suggest that many project managers don’t follow standard project management processes, are not outfitted with the proper team and fail to evaluate the risks that could hamper their projects or proactively look for ways to limit or eradicate those risks.
Bringing projects in on time and on budget is always a challenge. With the competing demands for labour and capital, projects have many internal and external forces that can contribute to a derailment. It takes a strong sense of direction, efficiency and leadership to keep the project on track. The following guidelines are some helpful best practices that every project manager can use at one time or another.
1. Aligning the Project to Organizational Goals
Research suggests that aligning project management and organization strategy yields considerable benefits for the organization. Where previously project managers might lead expensive projects that may or may not have been compatible with greater business aims, alignment casts spending in a new light. Funds are spent to directly impact an organization’s overall performance, thus increasing profitability and reducing unnecessary expenses.
Alignment can also help improve project success rates and, therefore, the ability for the organization to address customer or client needs and expectations. Research has shown a significant increase in organizational financial performance and project success rates when projects were aligned with business strategies. When each project directly contributes to the welfare of the business, the organization as a whole thrives, improving customer and client experiences in addition to retention rates.
2. Defining Scope and Documenting Goals
The scope helps to define the boundary or limitation of the project. It is important for project managers to understand the difference between what they desire to accomplish and what they are actually able to accomplish. Project goals also need to be documented. What is the project manager trying to accomplish? What are the success factors? What are the required steps to get there? Who is responsible for reaching key milestones? The goals should be both specific and measurable.
3. Determining the Right Key Stakeholders
The right stakeholders, such as partners, are important resources to help manage and implement the project. Stakeholders can make all the difference in the failure or success of an organization’s project. Putting together a stakeholder communication plan which identifies a list of all stakeholders as well as their involvement in the project is helpful.
4. Having Regularly Scheduled Meetings with Agendas
This best practice refers to a key element of any project – communication. Communication is vital on most projects; people need to know what is happening and how things are moving forward (or backward) on the project. Project managers should ascertain that meetings occur regularly to inform and educate their project team about what is happening with the project. Meetings should have an agenda and most important a facilitator or organizer. The facilitator’s job is to make sure that the meeting remains productive. Informing all the team at every step of the way throughout the project – communicating even the smallest element ensures no one is left out of the loop and helps to improve the project manager’s leadership skills as well as to control risk.
5. Having a Back-up Plan
Project managers should always build some contingency into the schedule and the budget. Doing so will give them greater flexibility to move in the event that contingent actions or adjustments become necessary.
6. Measuring Success and Following Up
Once a project is complete, a review should follow that includes the original details and goals of the project at hand to determine project performance. Was it within budget? Was it on schedule? Did it produce what it was meant to produce, and at the required quality? A project manager should report the project’s performance to key stakeholders and follow up with them and the project team members and find out how they felt about the project. Was the project a success from their perspective?
Project success means completing all project deliverables on time, within budget, and to a level of quality that is acceptable to stakeholders. The project manager must keep the team’s attention focused on achieving these broad goals. Successful projects do not just happen. They require structured planning, the right tools, insightful management and good interpersonal skills.