Planning prevents mayhem

You only have to conduct a post mortem of the countless disastrous software project disasters to realise just how many were doomed right from the start. Invariably, it is the usual issues that crop up, from lack of clarity of purpose all the way through to insufficient consultation of stakeholders – sometimes failure even to identify the stakeholders.

Without clarity and agreement on project objectives, there’s no guarantee that we will even choose the right product, let alone get it implemented efficiently or on time.

Every day invested in getting a software implementation right at the planning stage saves five days’ work putting it right later on. OK, so I can’t back that figure up with scientific research. In some projects it will be 10 days of correcting, re-thinking, fire-fighting, for every day that should have been spent planning thoroughly earlier on.

Successful implementation is not about technology – it’s about people. A study conducted by process consultancy The Coverdale Organisation three years ago found that the most common causes of project failures were all to do with leadership, communication and clarity of thought.

That’s why senior management ‘buy-in’ to the project early on is so critical to success. All too often, they don’t get round to focusing on specifics until it is too late, at which point they feel their seniority entitles them to change everything.

Remember, too, that training constitutes an essential part of the implementation process. It gives users realistic expectations of the new system, and could help to avoid some nasty surprises.

Of course, not all software implementations go according to plan. But despite the depressingly frequent ‘IT project disaster’ headlines, many projects are well run and deliver the desired results. Stick to the rules and your organisation will reap the benefits.

Paul Booth is technical manager at the ICAEW’s IT faculty. He will be presenting a masterclass at Softworld Accounting & Finance.

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