Project Management Tips for IT Implementations

Project Management Tips for IT Implementations
John Jantson
Executives relying on antiquated technology and "state-of-the-past" systems
no longer can make proper choices to streamline their organizations and
supply chains by simply listening to their customers. Comprehensive, timely
and accurate information is essential for decision-makers to successfully
direct the course of business.
Enter the large-scale information technology (IT) implementation project.
Without question, such projects are among the most daunting tasks an
apparel or sewn products firm can tackle. They require massive
organizational change, extensive resources and considerable amounts of
time. Determining the correct hardware, operating system, middleware and
applications requires managers of such projects to negotiate a maze of
requirements, specifications, vendor services and costs.
And pitfalls and traps lie in wait to snare project managers at every turn.
Consider these findings from the Standish Group: More than 70 percent of
enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementations fail to achieve their
corporate goals. Poor project management is at the root of these failures.
Too often, project managers are caught up in a whirlwind of corporate
politics and business changes, and are never able to get their arms around
the project to set a steady, consistent direction.
Still, as difficult as major IT implementations can be, they can be properly
executed. The roadmap to success lies in successful planning and
management of the overall project. Many problems can be avoided or at
least mitigated by paying constant attention to the "three R's" of project
management: requirements, resources and recovery rates.
These three R's comprise the foundation of effectively planning and
implementing projects. Successful large-scale project managers measure
each of these project components and continuously communicate their status
to senior management and the project team.
Requirements: Defining the Scope
The requirements of an IT implementation define the core reasons a business
is investing time and resources in the project. The requirements of a project,
often referred to as the project scope, must clearly set out what the project
team is expected to deliver, and should be documented in detail.
For example, a project manager may be assigned to implement a data
warehouse. The definition for this project could be several pages long, and
should include the following types of statements:
* "The project team will implement ABC Software Co.'s data warehouse
without any modifications to the base application."
* "The data warehouse will be deployed to the following groups of users:
sales and merchandising, production planning and warehousing/distribution
In the beginning of a new project, many of these details can be unknown
quantities, and it might seem impossible to define specifics. A project
manager may encounter feedback such as: "We cannot limit the
implementation of the new data warehouse just to these departments. We
may need to deploy it to members of the accounting, sourcing and marketing
Although this statement might be accurate, the project manager should not
add to the project's scope without documenting the additional needs. For
example, if additional user groups are to be included, the documentation
about the project's scope should be amended with a statement such as the
* "The project team will identify the users that require access to the new
data warehouse."
By accurately documenting the work that needs to be done, the project
manager can provide senior management with a better understanding of the
time frames and resources that will be required to complete the project.
Prior to commissioning a major initiative, senior management should require
the project team to complete a cost/benefit analysis. This analysis should
outline high-level deliverables that will result from the project meeting its
goals. The project team also should define metrics and benchmarks that can
be used to measure the benefits of change and the progress and completion
of each deliverable.
For example, if a new system is being deployed that reduces the time
required to print, sort and attach hangtags, the current amount of time
required to complete these activities must be accurately benchmarked. After
the new system has been deployed, management can compare the new
tagging time requirements against the historical benchmarks and quantify
the amount of time saved.
Resources: Set Goals But Be Flexible
The second of the 3 R's -- resources -- includes all employees, consultants
and vendors who are required to successfully complete the project.
Resources also encompass the budgets, capital expenditures, equipment and
infrastructure necessary to achieve the requirements of the project within the
target time frame. Resources are the most important commodities of the
project. Without them, none of the project requirements will be completed.
They also can be the most difficult aspect of a project to accurately pinpoint.
In determining the amount of resources that will be required to complete a
project, many base their calculations on the firm's number of full-time
employees (FTEs). Deriving an accurate FTE count, however, can be a
difficult task. Thousands of variables change the resource requirements of
major projects on a daily basis. People become ill, quit, go on vacations and
take maternity or paternity leave.
When establishing an estimate for a project, the project manager must
consider the amount of work that needs to be completed and put a stake in
the ground in terms of the resources that will be required to do the job. As
the project progresses, it is important that the project manager revisit the
original estimates with updated information, and adjust his or her team's
size, budget projections, etc. accordingly.
Recovery Rate: Measure the Milestones
The recovery rate can be measured from the time any requirements of the
project are completed through the time the business begins to recover its
capital investment. A classic mistake of many project managers is to focus
100 percent on the end of the project. If project managers do not develop
and manage interim milestones, they are unable to determine the rate at
which they are achieving project requirements. As a result, they are not able
to clearly determine whether the project is on time and if it will meet the
In the end, requirements, resources and recovery rates must all be carefully
balanced to successfully realize the benefits of a large-scale project that is on
time and meets budget. As changes occur, it is imperative that the project
manager identifies which of the three R's each change affects. When a
project is in balance, any change to one of the three R's will cause a
compensatory change in another. For example, as requirements are added to
a project, either additional resources or additional time must be added to the
The project manager's responsibility is to qualify the effect of the change and
express these effects to senior management. By utilizing the three R's
approach, project managers are able to set and manage the expectations of
senior management and the organization, and manage the overall project
toward success.
As innovative technology continues to change, businesses need to adapt at
an increasingly fast rate, and must be able to successfully implement major
IT projects to stay in the game.
John Jantson has more than five years of experience as a manager and
consultant with Kurt Salmon Associates (KSA). During that time, he has
worked in all phases of the software development and implementation
lifecycle, with an industry focus in retail and consumer products.
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