Lesson 1: Do you know why your project fails?

|April 7, 2013 0

Pratima H

THE son had opened the diary with a glint of hope. He did not know what to expect. It took only the first few lines to prepare him for the torrent of wisdom he was about to get drenched in.

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His father had started the first page saying:

“Dear son. I know you must be in a strange state of confusion right now. We were never the most cordial pair of Father and Son certainly. But before I say anything else, I hope I do not have to put this fact on the record that I have always enjoyed every bit of confrontation we had. We sparred ideas, differences of views and so much debate every time we had a conversation. You stood up to me the way only your mother could. The way not even my best competitors have been able to muster till date. I loved those arguments. I also relished the fact that the best of my genes is taking care of ‘technology’ for our empire. It sends me into splits when I wonder why even the sharpest of our contemporaries have not been able to discover this even now. IT is not the second rung of any business ladder. It is the real edge, the X-Factor, something that is potent enough to melt an entire empire into nothing as much as it can lift it to supernatural levels.

Son, it is in a way good for us that our opponents are still sleeping over this new-age epiphany. I am glad that you were the one to take charge of this very critical part of my business. What others saw as stone, you tuned into a pillar. And that’s why I am not bothering to leave you with insignificant and ephemeral things like currency notes or bank accounts or concrete. I have saved something more lasting for you, my most beloved son and brain. So here are some mistakes I hope you do not make. A string of advices to keep you cautioned as you take our business to new heights and depths. Read on now:”

The first lesson that I want you to remember is ‘what not to do’ with IT projects. When I start thinking about this pit, I remember a conversation I had with R Ray Wang, who I am sure you know is an analyst looked-up-to-for-his-ken by many today. This brain from Constellation Research summed up the question very nicely for me. I had asked him who to blame when an IT project fails? Vendors? Service providers? Internal users? Project managers? CIOs? Business Chiefs?

He told me that IT’s spending more than 80 per cent of their time keeping the lights on. They have little time to focus on innovation, intelligence, and integration as most of their budget and time is focused on infrastructure. Businesses want to get things done quickly. IT wants to scale to be efficient. Son, as he said rightly – Sometimes this is at odds with each other.

I happened to bump into a CIO friend the same day. This guy oversaw a group that spanned manufacturing and distribution muscles with equal emphasis. As he had felt, IT fails to deliver only and only when there is no involvement from the business.

He was of strong opinion that if projects are owned by the business and if there is complete ownership from the business, IT Projects cannot fail. Sometimes Service providers and their capabilities are the reasons for the failures. But overall if there is business leaders sponsorship and hence ownership for the projects, IT project cannot fail to deliver.

It would be unfair not to introduce you to Shrikant Kulkarni, Senior VP & CIO, KPIT Cummins Infosystems Ltd. at this point. If you had been around at the last conference, I would have forced you to talk to him for at least a few minutes. He is the kind of guy who would shrug hi shoulders non-chalantly whenever someone like me utters the word ‘failure’.

“For the last four years I have been a CIO here, I have never seen any single one going awry.” He told me in and with confidence. The reason, he told, was because they plan and prepare everything to precision and well ahead in time. Barring some minor derailment or vendor delays or configuration patches, nothing major has ever caught them in a spot ever. The last time we met we talked about how generally for most of the ERP projects, implementation time lines are always behind schedule and project budget is in ‘red’. The prime reason, as Kulkarni cited, was the hands off attitude of the project manager. ” It is imperative for the manager to consider all the micro level activities and their dependencies while preparing the resource and project plan. Most of the time this aspect is found missing.” He had said to me.

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Another analyst friend viewed the dilemma like this. He encapsulated an IT failure as a failure to adequately define the business issue the IT project is supposed to address; failure to work closely with business managers to understand what specific capabilities they need.

“Those kinds of shortcomings make it difficult to define success metrics and milestones. Remember the malaise of scope creep and how even if the customer has precisely defined the business problem and chosen the appropriate solution, customers often think of things later that add to the time/cost of deployment and/or aren’t carefully thought through to make sure they fit with the project’s original mission. It is also about failure to plan for changing conditions – i.e. choosing a solution that isn’t sufficiently flexible.”

We should remember that data integration, data cleansing are not to be relegated as routine things. Especially in deploying new, centralized systems of record, consolidating or modernizing older applications, companies don’t pay enough attention to issues of data quality and wind up with duplicative or conflicting records, etc.

No matter what son, never overpromise and under-deliver, if you remember how our good old gardener practiced. He never promised your mother and sister to expect too many roses. But when the huge exotic flowers bloomed unexpectantly with all his hard work, he took pride in the smiles he earned.
Something that strangely enough Vijay Sethi, CIO, Hero Motor Corp also etched on me whenever we met. “Specially when it comes to IT projects, do not promise if you can not deliver.” He would say poignantly.

Yet it is so natural and human to make err on this one. When you are actively trying to get an approval on a new project, you pop up so many expectations. But reality is full of constraints, one does not know of, including that of software or hardware. Suddenly, a lot of promises are not met, Sethi said.

He is right. Son, make sure you are not caught on the wrong foot with expectation management and scenario-planning with users. It impacts the way one would talk with users and the way users talk back. That will save a lot of your projects. No one minds a person who overdelivers.

Can an IT-fizzle-out be about choosing the wrong vendor or partner? That I have tried to dissect in lesson no. 4. For now let’s talk about metrics a bit.

Turn over the page now.