We’ve all experienced projects that never seem to get delivered, and we are all painfully aware of budget and capacity constraints that limit our scope for project work.
So, how can we improve our selection and delivery of projects?
First things first: What is a project?
Here are some basic principles for a project:
- A project must create valuable change for example:
- By improving client or user experience, or
- By meeting an operational need such as the replacement of a defunct system, or
- By creating an innovative way of working such as a new service line
- A project needs dedicated resources, either full-time or part-time, including a project leader
- A project has an agreed and published set of deliverables
- A project has an agreed and published timetable and budget
If a project doesn’t have these it isn’t a project it is just an aspiration.
Projects must fit in with overall operational and strategic goals. For example:
- A firm might want staff to be subject to major changes for a while, in which case only “back end” projects should be undertaken, or
- A firm prefers cloud services, in which case cloud projects take precedence over on-premises ones.
Lastly, like charity, projects should start at home. You should only undertake a project to meet an identified internal need, rather than be swayed by vendors; remember, they have their own interests at heart, not yours.
Identifying your needs, prioritising those projects most closely aligned with strategy, and adopting these principles will result in better decisions when it comes to choosing and delivering projects.
To help select the right project we suggest you use a simple project request form as a “gatekeeper” for new projects.
This ensures that requests for new projects place some onus on the requester to think through and justify what it is that they want, and also introduces a degree of governance to how projects are assessed and progressed.
Keeping people informed
Once a project has been initiated, there should be a short – one page or so – briefing document explaining the aims of the project and its progress.
To watch over projects, we recommend that a firm will appoint a Project Board comprising the following or their equivalents:
- Managing Partner
- Head of IT
- Head of Finance and
- Head of People/HR
This board should publish and share project progress information across the firm so that they too are transparent and accountable.
Most projects that fail do so through a lack of honest and open communication, and this arrangement helps to mitigate that risk.
Rather than a heavy-handed project methodology, we recommend the following simple project stages:
A little at a time
We recommend wherever possible avoiding “monolithic” projects, where the success or failure of the whole project is determined by reaching the final part.
Far better is to have a series of projects which are individually valuable.
This approach allows confidence to build as each smaller project is delivered. Accountants are naturally risk-averse and are fans of the adage “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and so a less ambitious but delivered project is more persuasive to the majority of the firm than the promise of a grander but undelivered project.
Put another way, the more projects are delivered, the greater the likelihood that users believe that future projects will also be delivered.
This smaller, component project approach also allows greater agility and room for course corrections if the results of early-stage projects are not as expected; it also allows resources and funds to be redirected to more promising initiatives if these become apparent in the medium-term.
Finishing the project
How often do you experience projects that are nearly, but not quite, complete?
The project request form, the project brief, and transparent reporting must always state the project goals so that the whole firm is entirely clear on what “complete” means.
If this goal needs to be adjusted in the face of what is actually achieved, so be it – but make this adjustment public and reasoned and still mark the project as complete.
Want to learn how we can help you deliver your next technology project successfully? Get in touch with us today.
A version of this article was first published by DFK International in its IT newsletter.
About DFK International
DFK International is a Top 10 international association of independent accounting firms and business advisers. The association has been meeting the needs of clients with interests in more than one country for 60 years.
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