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Troubled IT Projects: Prevention and Turnaround (IEE Professional Applications of Computing)PBPC0030 (Computing and Networks) Paperback – 10 Dec 2001
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'Smith takes the reader through every stage of the process, pointing out pitfalls and suggesting tactics as you go.'--Computing
There is no mystery surrounding the reasons for IT project failure but the key issue is that IT services vendors and buyers make the same mistakes again and again, and again. This manual offers systematic guidance on how to sense and avoid the causes of IT project failure at every step; from project conception to the disposal of the system after a long and beneficial operational life. It includes a detailed analysis of the 40 root causes of troubled IT projects - drawing on research and the author's experience and common sense. The text covers the entire project life cycle from both sides of the buyer-vendor relationship and should be useful handbook for software engineering and IT services professionals.See all Product description
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* exceeds (or is planned to exceed) more than 50% of the original timescale, excluding agreed changes in scope;
* exceeds (or is planned to exceed) more than 35% of the original budget, excluding agreed changes in scope;
* causes major dissatisfaction to the buyer;
* causes lack of commitment from the vendor;
* fails to support the intended business processes;
* fails to support the benefits stated in the business case;
* does not result in a win-win situation for the buyer and vendor.
The case study is a surprising one for an IT book - that of the world's then-largest ship, the Great Eastern, built in the late eighteen-fifties. It is a salutary lesson in how the engineering genius of its designer, Brunel, was coupled with some of his poor financial and business decisions that lead to a disastrous start to this early systems-engineering project.
Returning to IT-related matters, the section on prevention at the planning stage is the largest in the book. This is not surprising, as the author believes that twenty-four of the forty root-causes of troubled projects occur in the planning phase. In fact, the author goes as far as giving an excellent sales primer for those unfamiliar with the sales process!
The following are covered in detail:
* Targetting opportunities to maximise your win-rate;
* Buyer engagement and bid planning;
* Shaping and refining the solution;
* Estimating the project's plan and budget and negotiating the contract;
* Managing quality and risk - Smith's collaborative approach to risk is reminiscent of the Heathrow Terminal 5 project;
* Writing and submitting the proposal - the author gives detailed examples of writing a proposal and subsequent presentation.
The second-largest section in the book concerns the auditing of on-going projects to establish whether they are un-troubled, already-troubled, or at risk of becoming so. While the author apologies for the checklist-driven nature of this section of the book, this format is likely to be highly useful to most readers. The checklists encompass activities to:
* Determine whether the project is on target do deliver the scope of work, within the delivery dates agreed contractually, within the budget agreed contractually and to the quality agreed contractually;
* Detect problems early to prevent the project becoming "troubled" - for example step-changes in the estimated cost to complete indicates a major re-plan (see diagram);
* Investigate the root causes of an already-troubled project in order to provide input to a turnaround activity;
* Review project risk register and any contingency actions that have been made in the style of Dewar;
* Capture lessons learnt for future projects.
He correctly states that, throughout this exercise, the focus should be firmly on delivering stakeholder value, a key component of Lean.
It should be pointed out that Smith assumes the waterfall software-development process as the norm; this is sensible, as the book is firmly aimed at large systems-engineering projects. There only nod to agile methodologies is a mention of RAD (Rapid Application Development) techniques. Smith coins a marvellous expression of "galloping elegance", as one of the risks in a RAD development is the quest for the perfect user-interface.
The final section of the book details approaches of how to turn-around a troubled project. The author makes the pertinent comment as a scene-setter - that in all the turnaround strategies he has been involved in, none has resulted in the project being delivered to the original plan's scope, time and cost. A dispassionate reader may not find this surprising but in a pressured project environment, the fact is worth stating at the outset otherwise unrealistic expectations may remain.
Smith suggests a series of buyer/vendor workshops with the aim of:
* determining root-causes and a mechanism for tackling them;
* improving the performance of delivery team;
* re-shaping the project plan to deliver tangible business value at an acceptable cost and acceptable timescales, resulting in a revised business plan;
* regaining control of the project and the re-establishment of sound project governance.
He suggests the following work activities:
* Analyse the current position (vendor-led): this activity takes the findings of the last project review (including any recommendations and the costs to implement these) and examines the root causes, project assets, financials, plans and risk register.
* Define the target position (buyer-led): this activity reviews the original target position and determines a feasible target position from a short-list. The business case is re-shaped and if this looks feasible, then activity 3) is skipped.
* Evaluate the strategic options (jointly-led): If a target position cannot be agreed in activity 2), then project re-shaping options are brainstormed (Smith helpfully gives a list of possible options as a starting-point, eg consideration of the use of a functional pilot) and several costed candidate turnaround strategies are prepared. A SWOT analysis is performed and the best-looking one refined into a re-shaped business case. If this is not feasible then the parties look to its exit strategies
* Generate plans and endorse strategy (jointly-led): Assuming that the parties are still hanging in there, this activity refines the plans, business case and mission statement, gets senior management buy-in and relaunches the project.
This eminently sensible method is more likely to have a mutually-beneficial outcome than the "conventional" one - that is, to continue with the original "troubled" approach but with some combination of more staff/more money/more time.
The book is written in a brisk, concise style with numerous case-studies - many from the author's part work experiences. To his credit, Smith is unafraid to describe his failures as well as his successes. The viewpoint is firmly on the systems-engineering project perspective, rather than purely software-engineering; in addition, these are large, mission-critical projects.
The sub-title of "prevention and turnaround" is slightly misleading as this book exceeds expectations by being a primer to how run successful projects from the earliest stages - as well as showing how to fix problems later in the project lifecycle. Highly recommended.
What's useful is the book offers guidance as to how these problems can be minimised by proper planning and tracking, and responding to changes in a sensible manner. It doesn't try to mandate a particular way of working or running a project (practioners of agile methodologies may find that some of their ways are very compatible) but does present a realistic business case for how projects can be managed well, and be managed badly.
This is an excellent book, not only for your bookshelf, but also for dipping into regularly in order to anticpate problems rather than reacting to them.