According to recent research from McKinsey, half of all IT projects with budgets over $15 million (£9 million) rack up an astonishing 45 percent budget overspend and lag seven percent behind schedule. The glitches and outages currently plaguing Obama’s healthcare.gov are a prime example, as blame for its failings is bandied among government departments, consultants and vendors.
Big overruns happen here, too. Consider the BBC’s failed Digital Media Initiative. This digital archiving project swallowed up £98 million before it was eventually halted in 2011.
New processes and applications are supposed to make people’s lives easier, but too often rookie errors are repeated time and again, to the detriment of organisations and end users. Project mismanagement wastes more than time and money; it damages reputations.
Globally, IT and finance leaders in charge of IT rollouts contend with many of the same issues and challenges, so here are our four tips for getting well defined and planned implementations right the first time.
1) Invest in expertise
The best reason to outsource projects to a vendor is that you need to tap into expertise not available from within your organisation. Do thorough research and use a third party who is an expert in the marketplace and understands exactly what you want to achieve. The right consultancy will bring its knowledge and contacts to the project, mitigating risks and ensuring you select appropriate vendors from the first planning stages.
Independent consultants must ensure that your project rolls out on time and within budget. So you’ll want to know that that they work with only the very best in class vendors, with all of the capabilities to deliver large-scale projects without a hitch. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so a good consultation partner is money well spent.
2) Listen to your trusted partner
Investing in third-party advice only to ignore it is a cardinal sin. But despite the best intentions, a surprising number of companies do just that. This was a key failing in both the healthcare.gov and BBC projects, where caution seems to have been thrown to the wind.
Most commonly, companies rush to go live with their programmes or fail to conduct sufficient testing despite warnings. Just consider the additional resources that will be needed to clean up a shoddy launch. At the moment, the US government’s spend on healthcare.gov is estimated at 300 percent over the original budget of $93.7 million (£57 million).
Without setting clearly defined ownership stakes at the outset, the demands of various stakeholders can quickly overwhelm a project. A third party helps govern all the teams involved, and an outside perspective will keep the quality of the product being launched a priority. Using a partner to manage and allocate responsibility also ensures that the finger of blame isn’t pointed after things go wrong, when everyone does their best to deny accountability. CTO and CFOs should take note of the importance of a second opinion and having that vital go-between.
3) Take your time and test
Right from the off you need a thorough testing strategy in place to define what tech needs to be tested, how and when.
Your testing team should never work or test your technology in isolation. Project testing should be conducted in collaboration with the development team on every phase of the project, in order to identify and resolve issues before they escalate at the final launch. In the case of healthcare.gov, the website was tested in just one week by government officials, not by third-party programmers. Thorough testing also means putting your technology through its paces in a ‘real-world’ situation. This kind of scenario-based testing is the best way to ensure that when your product launches it can cope with every demand that’s expected of it. Don’t forget to look for problems within the test results too, not just the positives you want to hear. Then act carefully and swiftly.
A lack of specific and scenario-based testing on large projects ultimately adds to the financial burden of a mismanaged product launch. Can your organisation afford the financial costs of fixing a broken system after the fact? Can it afford to suffer lost revenue and productivity, decreased employee morale, and diminished shareholder value?
4) Set realistic deadlines
No project has unlimited resources, money or time – not even a high profile government-sponsored website. But don’t exacerbate things by setting unrealistic deadlines. Putting undue time pressure on your teams can lead to silly mistakes and skipping elements that will cost you in the long run.
When you consider the consequences of pushing a launch date versus managing a technology and public relations disaster, which would you choose?
So that rounds off our four key strategies for avoiding an IT project catastrophe. I think it’s safe to say that some of the problems plaguing healthcare.gov and others may have been avoided through best-practice testing methods, greater accountability among the parties involved and a willingness to listen to evidence of serious problems. Don’t make the same mistakes.
OpenSymmetry is a global sales performance management (SPM) consulting firm which delivers both strategic and technical services. OpenSymmetry has helped transform its customers’ sales performance solutions, delivering over 700 projects globally. OpenSymmetry has offices in London, Austin, Sydney, Johannesburg, Kuala Lumpur, and Chennai. Clients range from SMB to Fortune 500 companies, and specialise in the Communications, Financial, Health/Life Sciences, and IT/Distribution industries.