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23 signs your cloud project may be in trouble

David Taber | Feb. 6, 2014
On many an old map, unknown territories were marked, 'Here be dragons!' Sure, it's actionable, but it's not very informative. Centuries later, do we have the same problem with software project management? Here's how to slay the dragons that threaten to set your cloud projects aflame.

Cloud Project Management

All readers have their share of successful and failed software projects. Everyone has a favorite war story. But for software project managers, either in a company or in a consulting organization, there's surprisingly little up-to-date information about what causes budget overruns and schedule slips.

Of course, management consultants worth their name will claim that their methodology will fix the problem — and they'll almost certainly have a two-dimensional graph showing how their expertise will take your organization up and to the right.

Things aren't that simple. The Standish Group's Chaos Reports — a sort of CSI for IT murders — provide solid evidence that the success of software projects depends upon dozens of factors.

Having done these analyses for 16 years, Standish Group has been able to show depressing consistency in the problem areas and the project failure rates. This data works well for on-premises software implementation, both software package extension and bespoke application development.

Unfortunately, it's a little too early for solid data about cloud projects. So I'm going out on a limb here and characterizing things from the 150 Salesforce systems that my firm has deployed. (If anyone has good data to add, please send it to me so I can improve upon this article.)

4 Cloud Project Problems That Are Harmful But Not Fatal
Let's start with a list of the things that do contribute to success or failure but don't seem to dominate the cost/schedule/customer-sat outcome in cloud projects:

  • Requirements that aren't worth the cost or effort. This is waste, pure and simple, but it rarely overwhelms a cloud project.
  • Inadequate training on a particular system or tool. Learning curves are a pain, of course, but it's only a one-time cost if you've got the right people.
  • Coding or configuration errors at the module or "feature-unit" level. These are a pain, but they're pretty easy to troubleshoot and repair, since they're not system-wide. You need a lot of these to really take a project off the rails.
  • Unwillingness to cut losses. Fail-fast is an important optimization, but holding on too long typically won't kill your budget.

7 Cloud Project Problems That Can Be Fixed Mid-flight
Next is a range of issues that have a larger impact but can hopefully be detected — and corrected — before the project gets too far along.

  • Team members who have issues with mathematical or data-model literacy. Fix this in the interview and selection process.
  • Team members with written and verbal communication problems, particularly when it comes to problem solving. Root this out through testing.
  • Overwhelmed team members who can't keep up with development, review and test commitments.
  • Coding, configuration or integration errors that span several objects or multiple cloud services. Since these errors and omissions require cooperation and a common understanding across several team members, this can be helped with a shared-document system and agile development techniques.
  • Having too many "B" players and not enough "A" players This is brain surgery, not flipping burgers. There's no substitute for talent, attitude and domain knowledge. "B" players will drive up costs, no matter how small their paychecks.
  • Spreading the team across time zones. Remember, distance is deadly.
  • Bad assumptions or magical thinking about the way objects and RDBMSs work. (Believing that updates across objects just happen, for example, or thinking that deduping happens spontaneously.) This leads to the dreaded, "But of course the system will take care of me ... "


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