The 4 fundamentals for software project success

Tuesday, February 25, 2020 - Philip White

Digital transformation does not always require a root and branch restructuring with widespread implications, too much risk and business interruptions.

Instead, we recommend taking an ongoing, measured approach to technological improvement. Aligned to your business’ strategy, your plans should link technology to business goals to make your enterprise more effective, efficient, innovative, informed and connected.

To continue your digital journey - or to take your first step on the path - these are the four fundamentals that form the basis of digital success. 

Fundamental #1 - Convince Stakeholders and Gain Executive Sponsorship 

Even when inefficient, legacy systems are holding your business back, a change programme can still feel daunting. One of the first steps to a solid project outcome is to secure the right stakeholders and executive sponsors. 

Research from PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Survey, 2018 finds that: “Executive sponsors continue to be the top driver of whether projects meet their original goals and business intent.”

Find the right sponsor and they’ll provide insight into how the project aligns with overall business strategy. This will enable you to position outcomes against meaningful business metrics making it far easier to gain sign off and budget for your project.

Your sponsor will also keep stakeholders focused on your end-goal and visions. They’ll also remove blockers, support your team in making quick decisions and influence the leadership team to overcome any objections. 

To keep this relationship working effectively, you’ll need to manage up and ensure a consistent flow of relevant information to support your backer’s efforts. 

C-suite sponsors can also lead the change management aspect of your project supporting communications and leading from the front when it comes to cultural change. 

With this, the most important fundamental in place, it’s time to focus on risk.

Fundamental #2 - Managing Uncertainty

All change involves risk but there’s plenty you can do to mitigate it. According to Harvard Business Review there are three kinds of risk involved in software projects:

  • Execution risk - planned activities won’t happen correctly or as expected.
  • Integration risk - different work streams won’t come together coherently at the end.
  • White-space risk - key activities needed for project success aren’t identified in advance, leaving gaps in the plan.

With each of these risks there’s also the opportunity to plan for and mitigate certain elements. However, it’s not possible to avoid every risk entirely - particularly for white-space risk which requires you to plan for an undefined task you’re not aware of.

The best way to move your digital programme forward while mitigating uncertainty is to change the way you plan and deliver projects. Take an agile approach to development and you’ll benefit from proof-of-concepts and prototyping, plus visual demonstrations of workflows and early user feedback. Which ensures feasibility of high-risk technical features (such as integrating with undocumented APIs).

By uncovering risks earlier in the project, you have more time to fix, test and refine them. Giving you the best chance of a successful delivery to time, budget and objectives.

Fundamental #3 - Ongoing ROI Measurement

“The traditional measures of scope, time and cost are no longer sufficient in today’s competitive environment. The ability of projects to deliver what they set out to do - the expected benefits – is just as important.” PMI’s Pulse of the Profession Survey, 2018

With a project sponsor on board who can help you align your project to business goals, you’ll be well on the way to delivering this fundamental. To identify the best way to measure project success start by looking at:

  1. What digital means for your business - is it about enhancing internal operations or creating new revenue streams? The answer will inform your KPIs.
  2. Any metrics you need to change - identify existing data that will remain useful for measuring digital transformation, then identify any you’ll need to add or change.
  3. Uptime goals - systems need to be usable to deliver ROI. However, measuring uptime alone can be misleading. Instead, assess the impact of IT systems and tools on overall business goals.
  4. Talent gaps - a lack of capability is a major inhibitor to digital change. Understand the gap between where your workforce is now and where you need them to be. Then decide on the best way to fill that gap.
  5. Culture change - digital initiatives require deep cultural change to ensure new ways of working are adopted. Apply change communication methods, provide training and support, showcase those who are using the new tech to good effect and the benefits the technology brings.
  6. Digital impact on revenue - digital transformation should bolster both your profit, in terms of streamlining processes and improving efficiencies, as well as your revenue, in supporting and enabling growth.
  7. User experience and engagement - measure how the new technology has been received by your users. This could be employees and/or customers. Staff surveys and net promoter scores are great ways to gather this data.

Fundamental #4 - Project Ownership - People, Money and Time

All change programmes rely on sufficient people power, money and time to deliver them successfully. We always recommend taking one project at a time so you can focus on delivering a specific outcome. This will ensure your people and budgets aren’t spread too thin. And it will allow employees to effectively balance their workload, managing their day jobs as well as any change programme responsibilities. 

Instead of carrying out a number of initiatives that fail to gain traction with staff because they’re too fast and furious, pick one battle, fix it and move on. This will help you manage the change curve because you’ll be able to identify how your project has delivered the benefits you promised early on. 

As employees find their work is easier to complete or customers are able to spend more or have a better experience with your firm, you’ll have the impetus to secure support for more digital projects. 

The question then will be what to do next.

Find out more about maximising your digital systems with our free ebook

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