Common IT Mistakes

By Eric Willeke  |  Posted 2010-10-15 Print this article Print

Without the appropriate mindset and preparation, an IT project can easily become a cost center rather than a business advantage.

Most organizations look to IT for streamlining work, automating processes, improving customer satisfaction and saving money for the company. But accomplishing these goals can be difficult and filled with pitfalls. Without the appropriate mindset and preparation, an IT project can easily become a cost center rather than a business advantage. Here are some mistakes to avoid and some suggestions for providing value instead.

Losing sight of the value: One of the biggest and most consistent mistakes occurs when the IT team doesn’t focus its decisions on the value that a system can deliver. Instead, too many decisions on a project are made primarily on the basis of cost, when they should be focused on the desired and expected economic outputs, with cost and “technology coolness” as secondary factors. This will significantly lessen the risks of delivering the wrong solution.

Failing to establish good communication: Another reason projects often fail to align with the desired business goals and values is because of inconsistent or inadequate interaction among the various sponsors and stakeholders. Project leaders should focus most of their energy on ensuring that a clear understanding of all the project elements exists between the project team and the stakeholders. Properly maintained, these communication channels will enable many potential issues to be resolved well before the problems become insurmountable.

Failing to invest in people and learning: IT organizations need to encourage both individual and organizational learning. Many groups don’t spend enough time and energy reflecting on the methods and approaches they use to deliver value. Learning and improvement can’t be concentrated at a management level or in an architecture group.

Instead, everyone in the organization should be given time to explore improvement opportunities with their peers. This represents a small investment that typically shows compounding improvement over time, and allows steady improvement of the entire organization’s productivity and its value delivery capabilities.

Failing to set clear expectations: Setting inappropriate or unrealistic expectations can have ramifications for both employee morale and stakeholder relations. But setting effective goals requires far more than simply writing good requirements specifications. Good project managers continually set and refine expectations based on incremental progress, changes in the project’s scope, quality concerns and overall project health.

This interactive behavior helps all the stakeholders become an effective part of a highly collaborative, value-focused team. The alternative—everyone going his or her own way—often degenerates into contract negotiations and finger-pointing.

Failing to build in quality: Most managers are well-aware of the dangersof taking shortcuts on technology implementations. The long-term maintenance costs can be overwhelming and often start hurting the implementation team even before a deployment is complete.

Regrettably, many managers fail to recognize the converse: There is a distinct competitive advantage to purposely building in quality at all phases of a project. This is especially true of highly iterative and incremental approaches, where any aspect of the project could find its way into a production environment.

As a result, organizations that embrace quality—using a low-defect mentality with a supportive culture, executive affirmation and solid engineering practices—will find themselves continually delivering ahead of schedule and under budget. What management might consider a cost should instead be viewed as an investment in cost savings that will be gained toward the end of the implementation and throughout the maintenance life cycle.

Failing to consistently raise and mitigate risks: Every IT effort comes with a host of risks. Some of these risks are well-known and are instinctively mitigated by adept managers. Unfortunately, there are also many risks that are never mentioned.

Individual contributors may be aware of a potential project-killing issue but fail to disclose it. Other risks can lie hidden at the borders between groups. A consistent approach to rooting out and addressing these risks will prevent them from becoming issues. In many cases, good risk management is the unrecognized cause of a project’s ultimate success: coming in on schedule and on budget.

Eric Willeke is the lead architect at EMC Consulting.

Eric Willeke is the lead architect at EMC Consulting.

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