Projects fail for two main reasons, goal confusion and role confusion. The most important role in any project is the person who is ultimately responsible for the project. Apple calls this the D.R.I. – the directly responsible individual. This doesn’t mean one person is doing everything that is needed to be done for a project, it just means that the responsibility and accountability needs to clearly lead back to one person – avoid role confusion. Ownership is what we’re looking for, without ownership there is role confusion and potential project failure.
Projects that involve software technology are especially susceptible to role confusion. Software projects typically cross many functional areas within a business (sales, marketing, operations, and technology). It might not be obvious who should be directly responsible for delivering a project. I was talking to Chuck Stempler recently, who owns a very successful AlphaGraphics print business in the Seattle, WA area. He described his process for the successful implementation of his Print MIS and the transition from a different Print MIS (a project many printers struggle with). He said, I took the guy that I knew was capable of pulling this project off and I gave him the clear responsibility, the time/space to execute on the project, and most importantly I made sure he understood my vision and could ask for my help. I know this sounds so obvious but I also know we can all look ourselves in the mirror and truthfully say we missed a few of these key components on projects in the past.
One leader, not a team, not a committee, not a group – you need to assign one person the ultimate accountability for delivering the project. This person may or may not have formal authority over the other resources involved, don’t be limited by hierarchy, the best person to lead a project might be at the bottom of your hierarchy.
Give them the time and space. This is frequently missed. You pick the right person, who happens to be the right person for a lot of your key projects. They don’t have the bandwidth or they force it in by working longer and harder – a recipe for failure.
Communicate your vision. Another big mistake on projects in general, but specifically technology related projects. Since a lot of us buy technology thinking the technology is the strategy – we fail to actually create a strategy that is based on business objectives. What business objectives (be specific) do you want to accomplish with the technology? Keep it simple and make sure you can measure it and you have a plan for how you’re going to measure it.
Offer Your Help. Stay engaged, not just on a surface level, stay engaged and be the steward of keeping the focus on the vision/business objectives. Technology is compelling and often our teams get compelled so much that they can’t see the big picture anymore – they are down in the database, configuration screens, and features. It’s your job to remind them why they are working on this project in the first place and to keep their focus on the business objectives. The collective waste of effort due to the focus on superfluous details in technology projects is astounding. Assert a cultural habit of constantly asking, “Why are we doing this and how does this get us closer to reaching our business objectives?” Technology projects fail not due to lack of trying/activity. Technology projects fail due to focus on the wrong activity; it’s your job to keep the ship going in the right direction.
Want to learn more?
Pick up our new book: Make Great Software Decisions: A Guide for Printers at the Xerox booth at Print 13, come to the EDSF Give Back at Print 13 Scholarship Night and get a printed copy of the book. The eBook version will be available at EDSF.org (starting Sunday, September 8, 2013) for a small donation to a great organization.
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