The secret to IT project success

For most projects, completion is success. But in IT, getting it done is only the beginning

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It's worse yet because of a central fact of IT's existence: If anything goes wrong, we're left holding the bag. What actually happened doesn't matter, and there's no use arguing that the software we built "satisfied the requirements" and met the specifications. Something went wrong, and software was involved. It must be IT's fault.

As business situations go, this one is big-time ugly. There is a path to success, but you can't get there if you limit yourself to standard project management methodologies. Here are the additional ingredients you'll need to go beyond delivering software to making business change happen.

Business change ingredient No. 1: Define success

This isn't complicated, is it? If you want to make business change happen, you need to figure out what the change will look like. This is what disciplines like Lean, Six Sigma, and Theory of Constraints are for. And it's why Advice Line has advocated so strongly for a radical redefinition of the business analyst role.

Business change ingredient No. 2: Take responsibility for success

Here's a seemingly fine distinction. If the project manager's job is done when the project is complete, and if making business change happen is the operational manager's job, and the operational manager can't start until the project finishes, holding the project manager accountable for successful change is entirely inappropriate.

But holding someone accountable is to impose external oversight. Nothing stops the project manager from taking personal responsibility for doing everything possible to set the stage for success. Taking responsibility comes from within -- an entirely different matter.

Business change ingredient No. 3: Incorporate business change management in every project

Project management pushes change into an organization. If that's the beginning and end of things, the organization will push the change right back, not because employees naturally resist change (taken as a whole, they don't) but because organizations stabilize into internally reinforcing configurations. They're built to be what they are.

Business change management is the discipline that identifies what it is about the organization that will cause the organization to resist a particular change. It then goes about figuring out what to do about inherent resistence to change. Without business change management, very few attempts to change the business will have any chance of succeeding, and every one that does will increase resistance to the next.

Business change ingredient No. 4: Make implementation a project, led by the operational manager

Implementation is one of those activities that can be a project but doesn't have to be a project. It does require the coordination of multiple tasks. It requires the efforts of more than one person. It can have a deadline, but doesn't have to have a deadline. As for well-defined, tangible work products, while defining "work is now done the new way" as a tangible work product might be a bit of a stretch, it isn't entirely unreasonable.

So make it a project. Doing so means everyone knows when it's supposed to happen. Doing so means everyone knows what steps are needed to make it happen. Doing so means everyone knows who is accountable for making it happen.

By making the operational manager responsible for managing the project, the company achieves two important results. The first is that instead of change being imposed on an operational manager who has every logical right to claim it's a bad idea, the operational manager gets to own the change.

And it results in operational managers learning how to make change happen as a natural complement to their day-to-day operational responsibilities.

This story, "The secret to IT project success," was originally published at Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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