Do the Hardest Parts of Your IT Project First

An important part of the project risk management puzzleBy Ken Norland
Associate

Many project managers have a tendency to do the easy pieces first and save the hardest parts for the end. This is just basic human nature. However, project risk management for increasing the chances of IT project success means planning for the earliest possible problem detection. If your project has complexities (i.e. “hard parts”) that you can identify early, attacking them first will improve predictability and give you time to recover when the inevitable problems occur.

Turn “3 Miracle” Projects into “Doable” Projects

Years ago I worked at an organization where we would look at a project and say “it will take X number of miracles for us to pull this off in the time allotted.” Those “miracles” referred to the events where we got to a point and said “a miracle is needed here.” And I learned that tackling those gaps in understanding can eliminate most of the need for miracles. Which, of course, makes for good project management.

Here are some examples of the types of things that are often project risks that if not properly addressed can require “miracles” to overcome:

  • Interfaces to external systems – These can be difficult to do because of the data mapping involved. Things don’t always map, and then you must figure out what to do. If you leave these interfaces to the integration test phase, it’s a big “oh no!” when they don’t work.
  • Complex algorithms – Say you have an algorithm for a search, and you can see from the specs that it’s challenging. Be sure you know how to solve the algorithm before you get too late in the cycle.
  • Complex user interface actions – If your specs call for a user interface action that’s not “vanilla,” you want to tackle this early in the project. You need to be sure that the language you’re building it in and the way that you’re building it will let you get the results you want. I’ve seen many situations where the database schema does not allow for what the user interface was supposed to do. Don’t let this happen to your project!

Additional considerations include the need for strong executive sponsorship and effective change management. I’ll talk more about these in future posts.

How Do You Identify Your IT Project’s Potential Problem Areas?

Besides past experience, the two easiest ways to identify your IT project’s potential problem areas are:

  • Listen to your project team – One way to identify the things that should be tackled first is to realize that these are the things that often get cited as “risks” early on by the project team.

Often what happens with risk is that people say “that’s a risk” and then put it on a shelf. But something that sounds like a risk that could potentially derail the project should not be ignored. Do some testing, prototyping or a proof of concept to either validate or invalidate it as a risk. And then act accordingly.

High risk project elements may also be identified by looking at project plan pieces that the staff doesn’t want to commit to and/or provide an estimated duration for.

  • Use Critical Path Analysis – You can also identify these problem areas early by using Critical Path Analysis. You know that if any item on the critical path slips, the entire project slips. Take a close look at the time allotted in the project plan for each of the critical path items to see if it is realistic, and think about if any of these items can be done sooner rather than later to reduce overall risk.

What if Doing the Hardest Parts of the Project First Isn’t Feasible?

If doing the hard parts of the project first is not feasible, then you should do a proof of concept for the hard parts as early in the project as possible. The goal here is to find and address the points of potential project slippage as early as you can.

Conclusion

How many times have you seen a project end up where 98% of the project is done, but then things drag on for another two months trying to get the other 2% complete? Meanwhile, everyone, including the project manager, the team members and the end users who need this thing, is frustrated.

Doing the hardest parts of your IT project first means identifying that potential nagging problem early on, and scheduling it so that it can get resolved early on. Which, of course, is one way to help your entire project succeed.

 

About Ken Norland

As a strategic leader in IT with many years of experience, Ken has led significant teams in professional services, product development and large program/project management. His ability to see and act on both the big picture and on tactical needs is rare and valued.

Ken has participated in several mergers and acquisitions; managed large, multinational development teams; led Enterprise Architecture efforts; and provided strategy for multiple companies and technologies.

About CIO Professional Services

CIO Professional Services LLC is a top-rated IT (Information Technology) consulting firm, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in strategic IT consulting and business / IT alignment. Companies come to us seeking assistance with their information technology strategy as well as to source interim CIO / CTO employees or fractional CIO / CTOs.

Contact CIO Professional Services

CIO Professional Services LLC is a top-rated IT consulting firm, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, specializing in strategic IT consulting and business / IT alignment. Companies come to us seeking assistance with their information technology strategy as well as to source interim CIO / CTO employees or fractional CIO / CTO's. Our IT experts can assist with integrating IT into your business processes - better - up to and including 'project rescue' in areas such as ITSM / ITIL, IT service strategy, and IT outsourcing. Business / IT strategy projects we have worked on include upgrading ERP systems, cybersecurity and IT consulting, IT assessment and organizational change. Cloud computing and business IT remain critical in today's business systems, and beyond that to the migration to the cloud of business IT. Our IT consultants can assist with all aspects of business / information technology alignment. Contact us today for a free phone consultation - we service clients not only in San Francisco or San Jose, but throughout the United States.

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