What criteria will you use to determine if a project has been successful? The most common repose would be “delivered on time and on budget.” A few responses may go further to “delivered on time, on budget and within scope.”
Schedule management, Cost Management and Scope Management make up only 3 of the 10 Project Management knowledge areas of the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK) 6th Edition. I see a successful project primarily as one that delivers on its stated value. One definition of value from the Merriam-Webster dictionary is “relative worth, utility, or importance.” The stated value of a project should be clearly defined during the initial stages of a project. This value should be measurable and verifiable at the close of the project.
Many technology projects are high-risk projects due to the rapidly changing technology and business environment. For example, think about how artificial intelligence has changed the way we interact with technology through digital assistants like Google, Alexa, Siri and Cortana, or how streaming media changed the way Netflix distributes content causing places like Blockbuster to go out of business, or how Amazon changed the way we shop. Think about how technology now facilitates online learning and how virtual and augmented reality may be used in the future of education.
So how can we ensure that technology projects deliver its stated value in a changing technology and business landscape? This can be achieved by redefining the definition of a successful project and how to plan and execute our projects. Let us look at an example:
A project is underway that allow students to submit assignments online where professors can both grade and markup these assignments electronically by a completely paperless process. The project will leverage a cloud platform, along with touchscreen tablets that professors will use to electronically mark papers. The project has a budget of $250,000 and a schedule of 6 months to complete.
Scenario 1: This project is completed in just under 6 months with a total cost of $244,000. Everything is technically operational from end to end. Post project evaluation shows that adoption of the solution is only 35% with faculty and students complaining about the difficulty in using the solution. Now, would this project be considered a success? It was delivered on schedule, within budget and within scope. Would you say this project added the intended value it was supposed to?
Scenario 2: The scope of the project is modified to define the value of the solution to have 80% adoption and a reduction in grading papers from 6 working days to 3 working days. These targets are utilized in the planning and risk assessment phases of the project. During the implementation of the solution, a newer user-friendly, more responsive touch screen tablet is released with a simplified user interface that can be integrated into this cloud solution. This will add $50,000 to the project and 1 month to the implementation. Once discovered, the change was immediately evaluated and was approved as the evaluation concluded that it significantly contributed to the project’s measurable value that was earlier defined. The project is now delivered with at a cost of $300,000 in a timeframe of 7 months. That is one month late and 20% over budget. The adoption rate of this solution is 90%. Students and faculty are happy with the solution. Would this project be considered a success since it came in over budget and schedule?
I would say that scenario 2 delivered more value and was a more successful project. So how can we have the best of two worlds ensuring project value is attained and delivered on time and on budget? The following tools and techniques should be used on all technology projects to ensure they deliver the best value:
- Clearly identify the value you want to deliver as part of the scope of the project. The project objectives should be first around the needs of the customer and not necessarily implementing the latest shiniest technology that may not be the best solution.
- Make the value measurable and set targets. Throughout all phases in the project keep sight of these targets and measures.
- Identify your stakeholders and get them on board. Seek stakeholder input and ensure key elements are communicated to your stakeholders throughout the project.
- During the project’s risk assessment, ensure that risks associated with the relevant type of technology projects are clearly accounted for. Take a deep dive into evaluating customer experience, adoption risks and new related technologies in development and on the horizon.
- Ensure that the budget has an appropriate management reserve based on the risks identified. Higher risk generally requires higher reserve.
- For complex solutions primarily where the requirements are unclear, consider using an agile methodology. An agile methodology delivers parts of the project in sprints and is designed to easily adapt to change.
- Get executive buy-in and ensure that the project is aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization.
- Monitor and evaluate as the product is being developed. Always evaluate the project comprehensively after implementation. Budget and schedule time for this evaluation and a period for making adjustments if needed.
Many high-value technology projects involve high risk. We continue to do these projects because of the value they bring. As President John F. Kennedy said;
"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."
If you would like to learn more about Project Management, Agile Methodologies, you can visit the following sites or search these terms in your search engine for additional resources. www.pmi.org, www.scrum.org.