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Project success comes from the top

Approximately half of all significant ICT projects fail in terms of delivering what the business expected. Marg Roberts considers what needs to be done to improve the success rate…

When businesses invest in ICT they are expecting to be able to do business better – that is to say more economically, more efficiently and more effectively. What they often lose sight of is that project management success and the success of the project itself are not the same thing. The management of a project can fail but the business benefits may eventually be delivered, making the project itself a success.

While the project’s success is the responsibility of the project manager, delivery of the business benefits that stem from the project are very much the responsibility of the senior management team and its board of directors. It is their responsibility to ensure that the upcoming IT project is based upon, and aligned with, the organisation’s business strategy and targets.

They must ensure everyone in the organisation understands the rationale of the project so that they can embrace it and be open to seeing how it will help them work better.

The senior management team also needs to monitor the progress of the project closely and respond appropriately to any change in the business environment or to the business case assumptions. This also includes potential unintended consequences that are the result of the project’s implementation.

For the senior management team to be able to do any of this, the board itself needs to have set a clear direction for the business. Only then can the leadership team understand its strategic priorities, ascertain what projects the company requires and know how these projects will contribute to the achievement of the business goals.

Once a project is chosen they must look beyond the technical requirements to provide leadership and governance to the project so that the organisation stays well informed, on task and accountable for the respective roles they play in the success of the project. This may involve changes to job descriptions, workflows, behaviours, attitudes and values. For an IT project to be truly successful it can sometimes require a change in the very culture of the organisation – a change which can only be effected from the top down.

The benefits from ICT projects usually occur a considerable time after the project is completed, so the board and senior management need to make sure the work required to realise the benefits is not overshadowed by the focus on completing and delivering the project. Senior management, particularly once the project is approved, cannot afford to just take a backseat level of interest in the project and its implementation.

The senior team needs to complement the project manager’s role proactively to ensure the project has the best chance of success, usually by way of full engagement from the project owner and project sponsor roles. Only the senior team has the mandate and power to ensure that the changes are properly bedded down and the benefits are fully realised.

About Marg Roberts

Marg Roberts is one of Probity’s Principal Consultants, specialising in supporting businesses to achieve their strategies and goals. She is professionally qualified in the writing, implementation and review of better business cases.

This article was originally published in iStart Technology in Business magazine