Ambrose Bierce, the 19th century cynic, told of the inventor who built a flying machine. When the inventor started the machine, it immediately and quickly bored a hole straight to the center of the earth. Leaping free, the inventor was heard to remark: “My invention was perfect in every detail. The problems were merely basic and fundamental.”
Big projects are like that – they dig us all into deep holes, rarely fly, and even when they’re perfect every detail, they often turn out to be flawed in basic and fundamental ways – the usual consequence of having implementation scheduled years after conception.
For some reason, everyone expresses surprise when IS projects come in late, over budget and with fewer features than promised, even though that’s by far the most common outcome. Since most new IS projects are based on client/server technology, we of course blame the technology, even though, as we saw last week, client/server projects fail neither more nor less often than traditional mainframe systems.
The complexity of project management increases exponentially with the size of the project. This means big projects need exceptional project managers. Unfortunately, exceptional project managers are hard to come by, and they deservedly command salaries that can make IS executives uncomfortable.
Next week, we’ll look at the basic principles of managing big projects. This week we’ll talk about how to avoid them in the first place, because most can be prevented. Here’s what to strive for:
Usually, when you’re faced with a big, intimidating project you can break it up into a series of overlapping, independent, small, manageable projects that match the above characteristics. When you do, you’ll experience several key benefits. Your projects will come in on time. You’ll be able to track changing business requirements
You’ll also find yourself able to respond to changing company priorities, because you won’t have committed all of your development resources to a single project for a long period of time.