There is No Such Thing as an IT Project

IT Projects Do Not Exist

It is quite common for an organisation’s project management function to be located in the IT (ICT/IS) department and while there are positive reasons for doing this there is one major negative. The danger is an organisation can then wash their hands of the project. It then becomes an IT project which is useful when it goes wrong as IT can then be blamed. Also once the project is delivered if it does not quite work as expected then IT are to blame for not understanding the needs of the organisation. In this blog post I will explain what IT departments can do to ensure there are no IT projects and why projects are like formula 1 race cars.

IT Projects Do Not Exist

In order to not be blamed for project failure IT departments have got smarter and realised that if a project is tightly controlled by following a methodology such as Prince2 then it increases the chance of project success. This however comes at a cost of engaging the project end users (sometimes referred to as “The Business”) and taking up their valuable time. Workshops are held and a requirements document is put together. This is then followed by more meetings and a rewritten requirements document. Then the requirements have to be approved and signed off before work starts on another document, the business case and then more meetings. The result is the project end users complain that IT are being bureaucratic and that they should just get on with it.

The problem is while this approach is the right thing to do to ensure that what is delivered is right first time and under budget it switches off the end users. The project is then at risk of becoming an IT project as the end users become disengaged. The good news is there is a solution that ensures that there are no IT projects and it is fairly easy and cheap to do.

The solution

  1. Easy to understand project process – Most organisations have a very detailed project process which shows every step and what documents have to be completed and when. Unfortunately this large complex document is not understood by those outside of the project team and they do not have the time to read a massive document when they have a day job to do. So what can you do? Draw a picture at a high level that shows when people need to be involved in the project and what will be expected from them.
  2. Walk them through it – Before you start the project sit down with them and run through the expectations. Give them high level timescales and most importantly explain why their input is so valuable.
  3. Explain why it is not your project but theirs – You are the facilitator of the project, making it happen, it is always their project. It is their vision and ultimately once it  is complete you will be onto the next project and they are stuck with it so it had better be good. Without their input chances are things will not be built how they would like it. At this point it is good to use an example that is not project related. One that I use is the project manager and other technical members of the project team are like the engineers of a formula 1 racing car and the project sponsor is the driver. In formula 1 if the driver does not provide input to the engineers on how to set up the race car chances are that the engineers will set up the car in a way that is not to the drivers liking. The end result is the driver is left with a car that is more difficult to drive and therefore reduces the chance of winning the race. It is the same with projects the input of the sponsor and other colleagues is vital to ensure that the project delivers the right thing.
  4. There are no end users – Do not refer to people who benefit from the project as end users or even worse “The Business”. Instead try the term project colleagues. This will help stop the us and them mentality that can cause the project to become an IT project. Remember you are all in the project together.

What about projects internal to IT are these not IT Projects?

As a finally point for those of you wondering even projects that are internal to IT for example changing infrastructure are not IT projects. If you look at why these projects are being done they are to support a wider service for the organisation which ultimately benefits from the change. If the organisation does not benefit from the project then you need to question why are you doing it.

In summary

There are no such thing as an IT project and if you would like a successful project then everyone needs to be engaged throughout the life of the project. You can do this by:

  1. Having an easy to understand project process
  2. Setting out input expectations, timescales and why at the start of the project
  3. Explaining why the project belongs to them
  4. Not using the terms end users or “The Business”

So what do you think? Are there any IT projects in your organisation? Do you think projects are like setting up a formula 1 race car?