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Slaying the I.T fear-dragon

Over 90% of Australian CEO’s believe technology is the biggest opportunity to help transform their business according to PWC’s 17th Annual Global CEO Survey.

Adam D 29 April 2014

Over 90% of Australian CEO’s believe technology is the biggest opportunity to help transform their business according to PWC’s 17th Annual Global CEO Survey.

However Australian companies are not the innovative pioneers they need to be in order to capitalise on this trend.

Investing in technology should be a company-wide journey, and CEO’s need to become more pro-active at taking the next steps toward change, rather than burying their heads in the sand. Every company has the opportunity to increase connectivity, automate tasks and processes, or develop better products and services in response to customer needs.

The biggest problem is the ‘perceived’ fear. The press (bless them) will happily share every public IT-project-gone wrong, particularly when taxpayer dollars are involved (actually could make for a new reality TV show: “When IT goes bad”, screened right after “Big Bang Theory”). Unfortunately, we rarely hear of the good news IT stories, of which there are plenty of course.

Here is what goes wrong with most projects that fail:

  • Unclear goals. Projects with unclear intentions result in shifting timelines, expanded scope, poor design and cost blow out. Instead, engage your stakeholders very carefully up-front, ensure crystal clear objectives are set and design a roadmap that meets those objectives. Only change the plan if the objectives change (which should be rare). Otherwise, stick to the roadmap, and maintain a list of changes/requests to be tackled as subsequent project phases, rather than changing the first set of goal posts too often.

  • Over-ambitious objectives. It’s important to understand the business benefit, then ensure the roadmap is carved carefully, to guarantee the project objectives maintain a positive ROI. Often visionaries are over-excited, promising too much to the senior team, and expecting too much from the delivery team. This results in under-whelming the senior team with a project that has blown the budget and burning the delivery team after they’ve worked 80 hour weeks for 6 months trying to get it over the line.

  • Complexity. Projects that run out of control typically demonstrate the above issues, which manifest themselves as additional, unneeded complexity. Instead, keeping the goals clear, and the roadmap realistic, you can avoid unneeded complexity.

  • Governance. This is one of my favourites. Lack of governance is a huge project risk, however over-governance is actually more of a problem in recent times. One multi-million dollar project I came across last year, required a $1,500 hardware purchase was approved by a company director before it could be approved. This level of bureaucracy is taxing, and wears out the team eventually. Alternatively, under-governed projects fail for obvious reasons.

Having the right team on the job clearly helps solve a lot of these problems. The methodology however, is key to ensuring projects stay on track. Engage a team that has the track record to deliver projects successfully, and verify that they use a methodology you believe in. Here are some questions you should ask to ensure you have the right team for the job:

  1. Have they delivered big projects before?

  2. How do they engage up-front to ensure the objectives are crystal clear?

  3. How do we track ROI, and ensure we’re going to make the right decisions? Will they have the integrity to tell you if the project is a bad ROI, or will they be over-focussed on their own commercial outcome?

  4. How do you document, and then control the project requirements to ensure we stay on track?

  5. How can we ensure we do this in bite size chunks, rather than trying to boil the ocean?

You should not, of course, just start a project because it feels like the right thing to do. Partner with a team that can competently guide you through the journey - who have your best interests at heart, who have the integrity to tell you if a project is not going to deliver a positive ROI, and who can help you make the right decisions in order to allow your organisation to thrive.

Winston Churchill said it well: To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

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