Author:  Anthony Flack, Head of NFP and Private Sector Clients at Indigo Blue and a speaker at  upcoming MemberWise conference “Harnessing the Web 2015” to be held on  4th November in London. Anthony has extensive knowledge in Third Sector, Retail Banking, Change Management, and Consulting.

With Indigo Blue, I have been involved in excess of 100 technology projects in and beyond the NFP sector,  ranging from implementation of new websites and Content Management Systems (CMS) to outsourcing and replacing existing infrastructure. This experience has given me unique insight into what makes technology projects successful and why others fail miserably. I shared my thoughts on this topic at a recent event I chaired (it was organised by Warwick Business School and held at the Shard, London, link to presentations can be found here). Why Projects Fail will be also subject of Indigo Blue’s next breakfast briefing for the NFP sector on 24th September and my talk at the upcoming MemberWise conference in November.

So my talks at these events are similar, though they do not focus on why things fail or underperform. Rather, I am looking at contributing factors that lead to technology projects underperforming and on how to avoid ending up in an unsatisfactory position.

This approach,  i.e. using  real examples from one’s experience of doing technology projects, is my preferred approach as opposed to taking an evangelical position on factors including methodology, technology and other such things.  I thought one of the interesting examples presented at the Warwick Business School event, came via a former US Marine, who now works for a leading Lean Consultancy.

He was tasked with managing the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by a deadline set by the US President. This is of course not your typical project and whilst all projects have degrees of risk and uncertainty, this one in particular is on a grand scale and of course both public and controversial.
All the usual processes and artefacts associated with a logistical project of this type were in place and progressing, then and unexpected event occurred, which was the volcanic eruption over Iceland. This had the effect of closing the airspace through which the majority of troops were to be flown back to the US. Apparently going back to the project sponsor (Obama) to request a revised delivery date was not an option.
What transpired involved a face-saving "redefinition of done" - the brief was to get the troops out of Iraq, the assumption up until the volcanic eruption was that meant, get them back to the US. As this was clearly not possible, they re-planned to delivery and drove the majority of the troops over the border and into Kuwait.

I think the message the speaker conveyed was, planning is good, but things will happen and you must be ready to deal with the change. I would describe this as managing uncertainty and responding to change over following a plan. The question then needs to be asked, just how much planning is necessary – comprehensive “no stone unturned” sort of stuff, or adequate. The very real fact that unknown things will happen leads me to conclude that there is no point whatsoever trying to define and know everything before you start, it is in fact dangerous (and costly) as unknowns are assigned solutions via assumptions, and often over the passage of time, assumptions are ignored and not tested or managed.

Therefore the level of planning necessary to start a project should be adequate to allow one to start with a reasonable degree of confidence that progress will be made, alongside a robust and well understood process to deal with change and manage uncertainty.

So in summary:

  • Planning is good, in fact essential
  • It should be at an appropriate level, and not too detailed
  • Do not be deceived by reassurance afforded by an assumption
  • Manage uncertainty
  • Be ready to react to change or external events

Contact for Anthony: [email protected]

Indigo Blue are experts in the development of business aligned technology strategies and in the assured, optimized delivery of change. We provide strategic business change consultancy and industry leading agile programme and project management consultancy services. In the Membership and Third sector  Indigo Blue  have worked with many clients on a range of assignments including: Strategic IT review,  strategic alignment of business, project governance, website CMS,  IT-business change, marketing automation, and IT capability audit. 



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