IT project rescue: CIOs just need the right people
70-85% of all IT projects fail according to recent studies from Boston Consulting Group, Global Application Modernization Business Barometer Report, and Gartner. These quite shocking statistics show the scale of challenges and risks associated with running IT projects, as well as the truth there is no IT initiative that is bulletproof. Whether the project is carried out in a large corporation or a small startup does not matter. For this reason, CIOs should be prepared to deal with this kind of situation because it is manageable. Almost every troubled IT project can be put back on track with the right rescue team.
There are many reasons why IT projects go wrong. Most commonly it is inadequate project planning, too frequent changes in the project scope, use of unpracticed tools, shortage of resources, and no or poor risk management. Other reasons include lack of user engagement, poor control and monitoring, inexperienced project managers, ineffective communication, and insufficient project management, according to a report on WhizLabs.com.
The earliest signs that the IT project is in trouble may be hard to spot but not when CIO knows what to look at. Suddenly he or she may realize that his or her project is living on its own and no one is able to tell how it helps the business’ objectives. Poor communication across the project team, constant change in project scope, poor task prioritization, and no or poor project control are other warning signs. If CIO additionally observes a decrease in motivation in the project team and the staff turnover increase, he or she may be sure that the project is on the way to derailing.
Bringing expertise and experience of a rescue team is the best way to save failing projects
Sometimes, to save the project, CIO just needs to change a few people in key positions, such as project manager. Often, however, the situation in the project is so bad that these types of actions are insufficient. If key people in the project have already quit, there has been a loss of trust, and there is no chance of meeting project deadlines, it’s time for a rescue team operation.
A rescue team is a small group that brings together a specific set of skills and experiences related to the problem at hand. CIOs can create such a team from the best employees within the company, but they can also reach for external help from a specialized IT service provider. A rescue team operation is a useful management tool that should be used in exceptional situations. It enables a quick solution to the problems in the project but is associated with temporary interruption of project work and almost always means great stress for project participants.
CIO needs to provide the rescue team with a few things to ensure its effective work, including:
- A clear mandate to introduce changes in the project — so that every project stakeholder understands that the situation is urgent and important
- An experienced rescue team leader — the last thing CIO wants is to have two leaders arguing about the right to decide
- An expert team with various skills — a different set of skills is also crucial because not only technical issues are to be solved, but also those related to project management and interpersonal communication
- A short time frame — the rescue mission must be done quickly by nature. The situation should be mastered and changes introduced in a few weeks at the latest
Wolf — Special means need to be implemented
Remember Winston Wolf, a supporting character in Quentin Tarantino’s 2nd film, Pulp Fiction? He is a man who fixes problems for Marsellus Wallace, a gang boss. Wolf’s famous line to his co-workers, when called to action, is: “If I’m curt with you it’s because time is a factor. I think fast, I talk fast and I need you guys to act fast if you wanna get out of this.”
This perfectly illustrates how a good rescue team should operate. It should be ready to help within 24-48 hours and get right to the bottom of the problem — by first discovering the obstacles and resolving the most urgent issues, be it a specific technology struggle or high-level strategic and organizational conundrums.
A typical way in which the rescue team operates involves the following actions:
- Assessing the situation — this is a necessary phase to learn about the situation in the project and the main problems from the point of view of its main stakeholders
- Securing the project scene — while assessing the situation, the rescue team secures the project work, including software code in production and development, documentation, and future plans
- Taking the most urgent measures — as a matter of urgency, decisions are made to protect the interests of the client, which may mean, for example, removing a broken part of the system from production or removing some employees from the project
Small wins to restore trust and new solid fundaments to deliver the project successfully
The rescue team’s work outcome should include one or more options to solve a problem or problems in the project, including a recommendation for the best option. Mastering the most urgent problems in the project, as well as an action plan for the future, is the first small win that should restore confidence in the success of the project.
The rescue team needs more such small wins to turn a failing project around, hence an important task is also to identify near-term milestones that are only one to two weeks away and then carry out these tasks successfully.
One of such milestones should include creating a comprehensive project change plan covering:
- a new management structure
- new procedures
- new KPIs
- a more realistic budget
The quick wins will show the project team and sponsors that the project is successfully moving forward and is able to keep its commitments while new solid fundaments should be the basis to let the project team deliver the project successfully in the longer term.
IT project rescue – conclusions
In conclusion, a rescue team can be a very effective tool for CIOs to put troubled projects back on track. For that to happen, they just need to provide the right conditions for the rescue team to operate and make sure that it really brings the necessary experience and mix of skills to the project.