Project management has changed forever as IT establishes itself in the domain of senior managers, and project staffing requires careful planning to overcome damaging communication problems, according to business software maker SAP.
Last month ProjectWorld published a survey revealing that 58 per cent of IT projects end up late or over budget, with poor communication between technical teams and senior management cited as a leading cause of these failures.
The right representation and sponsorship within project teams at the outset can be the difference between success and failure.
And overcoming communication problems and misunderstandings of priorities between management and technical teams is vital, according to Duncan Williams, consulting manager at SAP.
He agreed with the research findings but said that communications breakdown would cease to be a problem if the right voices and decision makers are represented within project teams from the start.
"Having senior management involved directly in the projects short circuits communications because they become participants and not just people that are reported to," explained Williams.
A strong board-level representation in project teams will also increase the chances of sponsorship, which is vital if long-term IT projects are to retain support from the business.
Factors such as the economic slowdown, tight budgets and the speed of technological advances mean that IT projects and business projects can no longer be separated.
"If not directly involved, senior management should be sponsoring projects," said Williams, adding that the "seduction of new technology" has waned and IT projects are now purely business projects.
"We are in a different world and this creates challenges for the whole industry," he explained.
Getting the right mix of workers within a project team will ensure that targets are set and reached.
A balance will ensure a keen understanding of the business benefits of proposals, as well as increasing commitment from heavyweight project sponsors that have an influence over budgets.
Chris Chittock, managing director at project management and integration firm Diagonal, a veteran of rescuing failed projects, agreed that getting the right team early is vital.
People are key to any project and managers should be prepared to cancel projects that do not receive the right human resources. Managers should "say no" to projects if the team's human make-up is wrong, according to Chittock.
"A project is a living thing and is determined by the people involved in it," she said. "Project managers should make sure that they put people of value to the business into the project team."
Having a well-balanced team will ensure that communications between project and business teams will not be a problem.
"There should not be two separate teams but one that includes senior business decision makers," said Chittock.
She added that people become more committed to a project if they are involved in it directly, and the more senior the people involved the more sponsorship when you need extra funding.
"Business people that are involved will buy into a project because they then see it as a business project and not pure IT," she explained.
A mix of senior decision makers and technical staff also provides a strong blend of skills and sponsorship.
When IT staff are the only people involved in projects they are often misguided and will not get the right level of support.
"Many projects fail because the business has not been involved enough," said Chittock. "There is no way an IT director can know everything about a business and we would not take on a project if it is not going to be a success."
Project managers that cannot get the right human resources on board should be prepared to say no at the outset. "Project managers that say 'no' are good," she concluded.
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