Project Initiation

I have rarely, and I suspect similarly for you, been part of an organization where the demand for IT to deliver projects is less than the supply of IT resources to execute those projects. In fact, this over-demand is often chronic and our IT response sometimes exacerbates the situation. Because of our desire to meet the business’s wishes, and to show progress, we make the mistake of initiating projects before they or our teams are ready to start. It is critical to ensure that you have effective sponsorship, a good bead on requirements and adequate resources before you initiate the project. There is no issue with doing concept or project exploration, initial requirements and designs, high level planning or estimation, but these must all be divided from the formal project effort with a strong entry gate that ensures you have the sponsorship, understanding of the deliverable, and adequate resources. Most projects that fail (and remember, this is probably half of the projects you do), started to fail at the beginning. They were started without clear business ownership or decision-makers, or with a very broad or ambiguous description of delivery. or they were started when you were already over-committed, without senior business analysts or technology designers.  This is just a waste of money, resource time, and business opportunity.

Address this by setting a robust entry gate and be disciplined about when to start a project. If the business sponsors aren’t there, this is a discussion for you to have with that business leader. If the project is defined as overly broad or is ambiguous, don’t fall into that trap. Take the two or three most well-defined needs and split off or chunk the project into starting with just that piece. The rest will fall into place as the work is done and everyone understands better the situation. You and the business may decide not to progress further, If you decide to proceed then start up the next chunk as a separate project. And, as much as you want to get more done, don’t start the project before you have resources. As you operate your project ‘factory’ at extremely high utilization levels, each additional piece of work you add makes you less efficient and more costly. You must use higher priced contractors rather than internal resources. And your key experts that must do the work, now have to juggle one more thing and will be less effective. It would be far better for your 500 resource team to do say, 80 projects effectively, rather than 110 projects ineffectively. It is like a server that has not enough memory for the applications active on the system. More and more time is spent on overhead, paging things in and out rather than on real work. The end result is less work done in total even though more projects are active. This is a common trap that is overcome by knowing you effectiveness range and then simply prioritizing with the business. If something critical has come up then for it to be started you must ice and take off the table other projects. Make these choices with your business partners. If you maintain this balance, then you will get more projects done in the year — and that should be the true measure of delivery (not how man projects you started).

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