Think about a project you have going on right now. A project the company has affirmed as important, it is funded and it has a business sponsor. This could be your Workday project, EHR upgrade, or one of your consumer digital initiatives.
Let’s go ahead and define success for this exercise as a project completed on-time, on-budget, with satisfied users. Now, if you had to rank the likelihood of success of the project you selected based on that criteria, what percentage would you give it?
As a Healthcare CIO, my team was working on over 100 projects during any given year. At one point, I began to wonder why some projects were a success while others floundered. So, I set out to find the answer.
Imagine a spreadsheet with 100 projects listed down the left side, with a bunch of data points on the right. Well, I decided to add another column to that spreadsheet — “likelihood of success” — and began to fill it out based on my knowledge. As you would imagine, by the end of the exercise I was relatively depressed.
Someone once shared with me a thought: “If you don’t know why something works, you probably won’t be able to fix it when it breaks.” There are some reasons projects succeed that are obvious to most: executive sponsorship, proper funding, great team, and organizational buy-in to the project. However, I would like to point out some of the missing elements that we have identified, which lead to project failures… or at least project “not successes.”
Defined Outcome or Goal (Success Criteria)
I was surprised at how many of our projects didn’t have clearly defined success criteria.
Success criteria merely state what the organization expects to get from the effort. A Workday project might have as one of its success criteria, amongst others, a platform where every employee can access their record from any device.. You can measure this outcome, and you know when you’ve arrived at that destination. You’ll want to avoid vague words like “improve” or “better” — things that are subjective.
For instance, our goal for cloud computing was defined. We wanted to have greater than 60% of our data center resources with the ability to be provisioned programmatically over the web. We also sought to establish a usage-based pricing model that we could scale up or down instantly.
A success criteria should be measurable, not vague, and it should define a specific destination in the project.
Post Go-Live Owner (Who’s Moving Into the House)
If you’ve ever built a house, you know that you visit the building site often. The reason this is necessary is because your objectives as the person who will live in the home are different from those of the builder.
The homeowner has a goal of creating a home that they have imagined, the home they will live in. The person who is moving into the home has an eye on the future of that home.
Many IT projects lack the post-go-live owner. I’m not talking about the user owner, I’m talking about the product owner. If I own the PACS system post-go-live, I view it with a very different lens than someone who is just trying to get the project complete.
Consider assigning product ownership ahead of implementation.
Team with Aligned Interests
In the previous paragraph’s example, the builder, the construction team, and the homeowner may not have aligned interests. The equivalent of this is when an IT shop chooses a vendor and doesn’t get their work aligned to the organization’s objectives.
I have done this a few times in my career. The contract is one of the more powerful tools to ensure alignment, yet many contracts fail to create alignment between all parties. A contract that aligns parties will have success criteria in the contract that aligns with the success criteria of your organization.
I’m a huge fan of milestone payments for projects based on defined deliverables. There is a place for time and material contracts, sure. When contracting a firm for their expertise on a project, though, get them to deliver on your objectives contractually and pay them accordingly.
Sponsorship or Authority to Remove Obstacles
Every project will hit obstacles. Does the team in charge of delivering the project have the ability to escalate these problems and get them addressed?
We made sure that at least once a month, each project owner had an opportunity to present risks of their project to an executive in the IT department and make a request for help.
Most problems with IT projects are not technical, they are operational in nature. The single biggest obstacle was competing priorities within the IT department itself. Project managers can rarely solve these problems without executive support. Make yourself available to ensure your projects can stay on a path towards success.
Any project manager will tell you that there are many other factors that go into ensuring a successful project. Try making your own list of why projects succeed in your organization, and lay out goals that you need to strive for each time.