Planning IT Projects
We have constructed a letter to senior managers planning IT Projects. We feel it is necessary as they get planning IT projects so wrong so often.
Dear Senior IT Managers,
The early stages of a new IT project are very exciting. Enjoy it while you can, as in the later stages your reputation and the IT department will be in tatters.
If you are busy doing estimates, let me tell you that these will be way out. I‘m not talking about on the low side.
You do not know the previous productivity of your team, or that of the individuals in it.
You probably don‘t know the standard industry productivity rate for the tools and languages that you are using.
When planning IT Projects, our estimates will be done on the basis of ‘a bit for this and a bit for that‘ and all added together, without taking into account that the more ‘bits‘ that there are, the harder the project will be to run, and the more co-ordination that will be needed.
Planning IT Projects – Commercial Pressure
You will compound the problem by cutting the estimates that you have to make them more acceptable to senior management or customers.
You will say things like, ‘this won‘t take that long, and that won‘t either’.
Your estimators will give in to you. They cut the estimates, even though their previous history is of underestimating, not overestimating.
You may even cut the estimates to make them commercially acceptable to an external customer.
You should have left it to the Sales or Marketing manager to cut the quote whilst retaining your estimate.
Not a Project Estimate
The estimate you have now is not an estimate at all.
An estimate is your best calculation of the most likely time that a project will take. That’s with a standard deviation on either side.
Your estimate when published will become, due to human nature, the minimum time that it will take to finish the project. The project team are never going to thrash themselves to do their tasks ahead of schedule.
Planning IT Projects – Management and Customer Problems
You did not pick the managers that you have in place on the project for their leadership qualities. You picked them for their skills in another area, e.g. analysis or programming.
They will not be able to inspire the team to achieve as true leaders can.
When things go wrong they will spend their time working out reasons why it is not their fault rather than working out ways to solve the problem.
Planning It Projects – Business Users
The business users will keep canceling sessions with your analysts due to pressure of the business. So, your analysts then make do with interviewing more junior users, or those who know something about the area involved to keep themselves on schedule.
The Customers will sign off on the Requirements after much delay. However, if it is not what they want, it won‘t matter what is in the Requirements Document.
You have no system in place for making sure that business users or customers deliver what you need on time.
Project on Schedule
The first couple of months of the project will be fine. Everything will seem on schedule, and you will report that to senior management who will be happy with you.
The project team members will, however, hide the fact that they are behind from you, by allocating time to other tasks that they haven‘t really started yet.
Soon, your project will fall behind by perhaps a week. However, they will assure you that they can rectify this within the next few weeks. You will pass this on to senior management.
Each week your project team will assure you that they can catch up the lost week, but doing it is proving elusive.
Senior Management Worried
Your senior management will get worried and tell you to do something about it. You‘ll tell your managers to do something about it.
They‘ll put pressure on the developers. They will then give up programs for testing that are not quite ready, but for which there are no known errors.
When they put these programs forward for a systems test, they are full of errors, and they keep having to go back and forward for rework.
The project is falling further and further behind, and your reputation is falling quickly.
Skip Systems Testing
You may even decide to skip the system testing phase altogether to get back on track and go straight to User Acceptance Testing.
If you do, you will be hung, drawn and quartered, as the Users will get very angry at the poor quality of the system being handed over to them.
If you do systems testing it will go on and on and on, mainly due to the poor estimates and the time pressure that you put on your team, causing them to skip some testing.
Doing Overtime to Fix It
You‘ll put your people onto overtime.
This won‘t do any more than stem the tide a little.
Morale is going down amongst your project due to working long hours on a project that gets later and later. Sickness rates go up.
Best People Leaving
Then one or two of your best people decide to get better jobs elsewhere and give in their notice.
Because of the schedules, you make them work their full notice.
As they are demob happy, they don‘t get much done, but they tell the rest of the project team endlessly about the great new job that they have.
It is difficult to get the skills in the market place for the brand new tools that you are using on the project.
Extra IT Contractors
You get in some expensive contractors, who have oversold the amount of experience that they have in the tools that you are using.
This won‘t help much either, as the other members of your staff have to bring them up to speed.
Your weekly progress meetings with senior management will start to become more and more unpleasant.
Home Life Suffering
Your home will suffer as you work evenings and even weekends.
Even if you don‘t your project team will get annoyed watching you walk out the door leaving them to fix the problem.
You‘ll cancel all training as well, de-motivating your own people further.
Unsold Benefits to Project Team
You‘ll find out that your project team hasn‘t used the brand spanking new software development processes that you have put in place, as they don‘t believe in them, and it is easy to get round them.
You haven‘t sold the benefits to the project team sufficiently, who will consider that your processes impinge on their freedoms to do the job however they want, and you haven‘t put in place the key enforcement processes to make them use them.
Planning IT Projects – Crunch Time
Once the system has been delivered into User Acceptance Testing, the users or customers will say that this is not what they wanted.
They may have signed off on the initial business analysis, but they didn‘t take much notice at that phase, and they‘re certainly not going to implement a system that they don‘t want.
They‘ll feel that it was up to you to find out what they wanted and deliver it.
Planning IT Projects – Excuses Time
They‘ll make other excuses like the business has moved on since then and you should have kept up to date.
Furthermore, those that have to use the system will say that it is not User friendly and hard to operate, and that their opinions weren‘t taken into account in the first place.
Further changes will have to be made.
The delivery date will have to be put back again.
Senior management will now be discussing your ability to deliver, and will be wondering whether they need to get someone in from Accenture, EDS or IBM to get the system delivered.
Happens All the Time
This is what the future holds for you.
Any chance of promotion at the company is now gone.
When the project is over (or before) you will have to start looking at reviving your career elsewhere, preferably before a decision has been taken to remove you.
Remember this when Planning IT Projects.
Your Replacement Will Be No Better
The person who will replace you won‘t be any better, but your senior management will need to make a sacrifice to keep the Board happy that they have done something to rectify the situation, and their blood lust will need to be satisfied somehow.
As so few major projects are finished on time and to budget, and most are wildly over one or both, the odds are heavily that the project that you are currently planning will finish your career at the company.
Good luck, and remember to take time to keep your CV up to date, or spend your career sidelined in some off-track junction.
This has happened countless times in countless companies and organisations up and down the country, and little is done to rectify it, other than human sacrifice.
To be forewarned, however is to be forearmed when Planning IT Projects.
Thanks for taking some time off from your Project Planning and Estimating to read this.
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