Active Risk Management: Doing IT Projects Wrong

By Bruce F. Webster Print this article Print

In IT projects, Bruce F. Webster writes, you have to be honest and vocal in pointing out legitimate risks or else your budget, team and client are all going to end up losing the project battle. Being honest about project issues upfront can help win over clients trust and show your team that managing for success begins with a smart, organized approach to risk mitigation.

IT projects are typically full of risks. There can be many human factors, many external factors, and many unknown factors, all of which can interact in unexpected ways. Because of that, it is critical that you actively identify, track and manage those risks. But to do that means that you have to be willing to stick your neck out, be vocal and point out risks that the business side may not want to address.

Some years back, I was consulting for a client that had several IT projects going on in parallel. My primary task on getting a particular project back on track, but I was also asked to oversee the architectural effort for another project that was just starting up. The client was developing this second project for an outside customer and was in negotiations with the customer regarding both schedule and cost. For simplicity sake, I’ll call this second project “KAID”. 

In early November of that year, I attended the first major KAID project meeting. The program manager for the project – that is, the client employee working directly with the customer – laid out the schedule which he was going to give to the customer: we’d start coding at the start of December, we would finish coding by the start of March, and we would finish testing and deliver the system to the customer by the start of April.

He asked one by one for a show of hands around the table for those who supported that schedule. To my amazement, hand after hand went up around the table from the IT project manager, the senior technical leads, the subject matter experts, and others.

When the PM got to me, I pointedly kept my hand down and said I wouldn’t sign up for the schedule – both because there was no foundation for it and because I saw a number of major risks with the project. The project manager looked a bit startled at my rather firm refusal to “go along,” but then finished his way around the table.

This article was originally published on 2008-10-10
Webster is Principal and Founder at at Bruce F. Webster & Associates LLC. He works with organizations to help them evaluate troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects, or to assess IT systems and products for possible investment/acquisition. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan.
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