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15 ways to screw up an IT project

15 ways to screw up an IT project

How you can avoid common project management mistakes

Paul Simon famously sang that there must be 50 ways to leave your lover. Similar could be said (if not sung) regarding projects: There must be 50 ways to screw up your IT projects.

Indeed, ask IT executives and project management experts, as we did, and they will rattle off dozens of reasons why projects go astray. For the sake of brevity, however, we are starting with the top 15 ways to derail a project and avoid to avoid them.

1. Having a poor or no statement of work. "I've seen many projects encounter troubles due to the lack of a well-defined project scope," says Bryan Fangman, senior project manager at Borland, a Micro Focus Company.

"Despite the best planning efforts, change is inevitable, so having a clear statement of work up front is essential in getting agreement with the customer on what will actually be accomplished," Fangman says.

"A poorly constructed statement of work (or absence of one) will lead to ambiguities that are hard to resolve and you will never truly know when the project is finished," he adds.

2. Not setting expectations up front. One of the key ways to screw up a project is to not create a roadmap and define project requirements and expectations for all stakeholders at the beginning of the project.

That's why "before we start any projects, I make sure that everyone on both the customer team and project team have a clear, documented understanding of two primary things: What we are going to do, and how we know when we are done," says Tim Garcia, CEO, Apptricity, which provides service-oriented architecture (SOA) for asset management enterprise resource planning (ERP).

"Without documented agreement on the answers to these two questions, the project is in danger from the start."

3. Not securing management buy-in. "Executing a project without securing sponsor support is not only counter-productive but also a recipe for disaster," says Brad Clark, COO at Daptiv, a provider of on-demand Project Portfolio Management (PPM) solutions.

"It's imperative to be on the same page with the sponsor for a project to move in the desired direction and get organisational buy-in."

4. Using the same methodology for all size projects. "Most project management methodologies have a standard set of key tasks and deliverables for enterprise IT projects," says Robert Longley, a consultant at Intuaction, a coaching and consulting company.

"Most methodologies are designed around projects of a certain size (i.e., $1 million plus)." Longley says. "If you have a project that is $100,000 and you try to use the standard approach, you may find that it costs more to do the deliverables than it does to do the actual project."

5. Overloading team members. "Your team members are not machines," says Dan Schoenbaum, the CEO of Teambox, a cloud-based collaboration and project management company.

"Pay attention to how much work each individual member is assigned," he says. "If one member is overloaded, the end product will suffer. Utilise the strengths of your team and spread out the workload as much as possible. This will avoid overwhelming your team."

6. Waiting or not wanting to share information. "Waterfall approaches to project delivery - where results are not presented to users and stakeholders until late in the project - introduce risk and often lead to disappointing results," says Garcia.

That's because "users often don't know what they want until they can actually see, touch and work with it," Garcia says. That's why he recommends using an agile, iterative approach to project management.

"Iterative projects delivers results in short, quick phases, with the most critical and complex components delivered first."

7. Not having a clearly defined decision-making process. "While user involvement and feedback are critical, successful projects also need a clear and defined decision-making process," says Garcia.

"Project teams should embrace change, but change decisions need authoritative approval, agreement and documentation. Understanding the process and chain of command keeps everyone reading from the same playbook."

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