Success is a matter of perspective. You know this if you’ve ever tried to convince a disappointed project owner that a modified solution will be as good as what they originally requested. While you were happy to present a workable option on schedule, all they saw were the unmet requirements.
How can success look so different to two people on the same project?
One word: alignment.
For stakeholders to agree on a project’s success, they require a shared understanding of what will be delivered. When expectations differ, so too will any assessment of the results.
In fact, lack of alignment is one of the top reasons why IT projects are viewed as unsuccessful. That’s because alignment isn’t a box that you tick after a quick discussion. It’s a foundation that must be built. Even when teams appear to share parallel views of the project mission, strategy and outcomes, some may still end up surprised by what’s delivered at project end.
Sound futile? Don’t worry. Alignment is within reach, especially if you begin with two critical best practices.
It can be difficult for those outside IT to understand the function’s technical complexities. Much of our work begins with integrating systems that were not designed to speak to each other. It requires experimentation, innovation and some clever engineering. To nurture understanding and foster confidence in our recommendations, it is essential that we go beyond stock answers like, “That’s going to take some time,” and instead clarify the specific challenges being faced and the key options under consideration.
Remember, clearly explaining key technical challenges to executives can make all the difference in obtaining better project outcomes. For instance, if modifying the project scope could have greater benefits, focus explanations on the benefit delivery. Find a way to have better conversations about the long-term value and financial impact of your IT projects. Use simple, effective communication tools (reports, charts, infographics, etc.) that will enable executives to make more fact-based decisions about delivery.
Honest communication at the start of a project not only leads to stronger engagement, ownership and commitment, but also fosters a culture of transparency and openness at all levels. It is the basis of business-IT alignment, and the foundation of project success. Supporting any difficult conversations or challenging points with data and facts will help make those discussions more effective.
Seek objective input
Let’s face it, IT delivery is complex, even with the most straightforward requirements. Along with satisfying the basic project request, there are storage considerations and growth projections to think about; network bandwidth to consider; architecture and security; integration points; custom coding; testing and deployment. And that’s all in addition to ensuring you have solid project management practices in place.
Pair that with an equally massive list of considerations on the business side, and it’s no wonder alignment is hard to come by. That’s why every project of substantive size deserves some level of independent, third-party oversight. A voice of reason that can measure business needs against IT resources and recommendations in order to identify the options that will provide the greatest value to the organization as a whole.
The requirements for this role are simple. You can’t replace experience. No project ever goes exactly according to plan, and only once you’ve lived – and led – through a variety of project struggles can you anticipate the turbulence and prepare to mitigate it. Experience gives you the stomach to make tough decisions and act effectively under pressure, honing the expertise and instinct necessary to trust your gut.
Finding a delivery expert to provide an independent assessment of your project as a one-time or ongoing gut check can help improve your chances of success. Whether you seek help from someone in another department or from a consultant from outside your organization, it is imperative that whoever is tasked with evaluating your delivery practices is free of delivery responsibilities themselves. This will ensure the most objective view of potential risks and benefits.
Alignment isn’t all or nothing. It’s give and take.
More and more, we are testing boundaries in IT. Technology is moving faster than we can keep up with, and we are often on the bleeding edge. Expectations – both from ourselves and from project stakeholders – are higher than ever. Which is what makes alignment at the start of any project so critical. Before we start skewing the points on the project management triangle (time, quality, cost).
The best strategy is a solid communication plan and objective risk-mitigation strategy. Tell us about your challenges finding alignment. Let’s keep this conversation going.