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Avoiding IT project disasters

Tim Mendham | Aug. 13, 2013
Your initiatives are often the most expensive, high profile and high risk.

Smyrk thinks this lack of understanding is particularly common with IT projects. For Bailey, however, the distinction is not a problem.

"The difference between outputs and outcomes is always very clear to me. An example might be a system output is a management report. The outcomes are the decisions made as a result of the report," he says. "I always focus on outcomes — the outputs are a means of achieving the outcomes."

Other CIOs agree. Vosila's IT management position incorporates local implementation United Technologies' "achieving competitive excellence" program and is focused on outcomes. "It is about how the business has a different — and better — capability as a result of delivering the project successfully," he says.

"The outputs and artefacts of the project are essential, but it's the outcomes, such as being able to address the online market for our products so we can deploy our services globally, that truly transform a business."

Just because there is an output doesn't necessarily mean the project achieves the desired outcome, so the distinction is important. And this comes down to proper planning and implementation. If a project's aim is output without consideration for the outcome, it is likely to fail.

"A project's success is largely determined by the rigour and intensity applied at the very beginnings of the project", Vosila says. This means ensuring the objectives are clear and agreed; the best resources are fully deployed; the scope is unambiguous; and organisational support is present and apparent to all.

While there are many variables in successfully delivering an ICT project, Joann Corcoran, deputy CIO with the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, says four key criteria will help guide your project to its intended conclusion:

A clear articulation of the benefits the program is to deliver. "This forms the basis for all the decisions and strategies put in place to deliver the project," she says. "Without this clarity, the project will suffer, perhaps terminally. This is the holy grail of project management — remaining focused on the intended outcome from all of your hard work."

Knowing your timeframe, being realistic about what can be achieved and staying on track. "Understanding the implications of the amount of time you have to deliver a project guides resourcing strategies and project phasing," Corcoran says. "Good project planning avoids unexpected bottlenecks and crisis points."

Understanding what can be delivered within your cost 'envelope'. "Have well costed primary plans, fall-back plans and contingency plans on your fall-back plans. Knowing how much each approach costs helps you define scope and leaves you room to move when the unexpected happens."

Understanding expectations about quality. "Don't deliver a Rolls Royce when the client is after a budget model, or vice versa."

 

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