by June 17, 2007 0 comments



This year, for the Best IT Implementation Awards, we decided to go beyond our
regular analysis of the various IT projects. We decided to explore other aspects
of IT implementations as well. For this, we interacted with many of the IT
project heads, to find out their secrets for managing a successful project
implementation. In this interaction, we also got into non-IT issues like key
skill sets that every IT project head must possess, how to choose and build the
right IT team, which pitfalls to avoid, the challenges involved in running an IT
project, and much more. Here’s what we found.

A clear understanding of requirements
The first thing that we asked the IT project heads was to identify the
single most important ingredient for a successful IT deployment. As it was an
open-ended question, we received various kinds of responses. But most of them in
some way or the other hinted at only one conclusion-a crystal clear
understanding of the requirement. What do you really want to achieve with your
project? What’s the killer need for doing it? That sounds like quite an obvious
answer, you may say. But when handling complex deployments, the obvious often

becomes obscure. So understanding the real requirement of an IT project is a
must, but the fact is, it’s easier said than done. Let’s understand this with an
example.

You may feel a strong need to deploy virtualization technology in your data
center. You understand what virtualization technology is, and know that it can
improve the utilization of servers in your data center. You could even reduce
the downtime of your servers by taking backups of the virtual disk images of
your servers.

The trouble is, your management does not understand this requirement, as it’s
too technical. So it has to be translated into tangible benefits that everyone
can understand. For instance, one tangible benefit could be that you want to cut
down significantly on the electricity and air-conditioning bills in your data
center.

Or, you want to defer the purchase of new servers to the next quarter. Both
of these result in cost saving for the company, and are easily understandable.
Now you can build a case on how virtualization technology can help you meet both
or either of these requirements. A good project head would easily be able to
define the real requirements for an IT project, no matter how large it is.




The right team attitude
The other critical key ingredient that the respondents hinted at was
teamwork. Unless you have everyone pitching in, and willing to help out, the
project just won’t take off. Construction of the team is equally important.

Today, having an IT team alone isn’t sufficient. You need to bring in all the
stakeholders in the project, like customers/users, vendors, peers, and even the
management. Everyone has some role to play in the project’s success.

A user or customer would give real live feedback about the project, so the
project head must be open to receiving all the criticism. Likewise, the
management would steer the project towards delivering the business benefits. The
vendors would help you identify the requirements, and the IT team will help you
put it all together.

But in order to ensure that everyone pitches in and does their role, the
project head must have the skills to arouse interest amongst them towards the
project. For this, it’s essential that the project manager knows how to talk to
different members of the team in a language that they understand.
So the management would mostly understand business language, the IT team would
be more comfortable with technical jargon, and the users prefer plain simple
English (or even their local language).

Ability to build a team
We asked our respondents to identify the essential skills that every project
head must possess to manage an IT project. Again, though we received a variety
of answers, the key skill that emerged here was team management.

How well can a project head manage his/her team, mentor and guide them, and
keep them motivated? You must be able to build a real strong team, and the only way to
do that is to have excellent interpersonal equations with everyone.

There were three other key skills that emerged besides team building. One was
that the project head must have a clear vision about the project and its
deliverables, and the other two essential skills were business and technical
knowledge.

We noticed an interesting pattern as far as business and technical knowledge
were concerned. While most respondents whole-heartedly agreed that business
domain knowledge was a must to run an IT project, they were not so unanimous
when it came to technical knowledge.

Here, the opinion was split almost equally into two. One side said that only
a basic understanding of technology is all that’s required, while the other side
said that a complete understanding of technology is essential for deploying an
IT project.

Thankfully, nobody said that technical knowledge was not required at all! The
bottomline is that IT deployment is increasingly being subjected to business
norms, so the project head must have the requisite knowledge of business to do
full justice to an IT project.




Commitment and involvement from team members
Besides the project head’s own skill set, the team’s skills are equally
important. Ultimately, it’s the team that will deliver the work, so it’s
important that you choose the right members for it.

How do you do that? What
skills should you look for besides technical expertise?

Again, while we received many responses to this, the key attributes that emerged
were that each member should be a team player and committed. The person must be
completely dedicated and committed to the job, ready to work over weekends, and
under all kinds of stress.

As one of the respondents put it, the person must have fire in the belly.
Interestingly, we also discovered that the biggest challenge IT project heads
face with their IT teams was finding the right people for it. Could there be a
link?

Negotiation skills
One key skill that’s essential for any project is the ability to negotiate. It’s
required at every stage of the project. Whether it’s negotiating with the
management for budgets, or it’s negotiating with vendors for IT equipment cost
and services, you need to have the good negotiation skills. A good negotiator
goes a long way in getting the best deal for the project.

If the IT project head doesn’t possess good negotiation powers, then somebody in
the team must have. In fact, we found that only 44% of the project heads we
interacted with negotiated directly with IT vendors.

The rest had either appointed a separate person for the job, or there was a
separate purchase committee responsible for the same. Some even let their
administration department take care
of it.

Vendor management
Proper vendor management is essential to managing an IT project successfully.
Most of the large IT projects have several vendors involved, providing different
hardware, software, and services. Ensuring that they work together in harmony is
a key skill that every project head must have. The vendors should be willing to
go that extra mile to support you. For this to happen, you must ensure that all
vendors deliver their part of the work, be it products or services, on time.

To find such a vendor is of course another task. Most of the project heads we
interacted with were stretched between these two extremes as far as vendor
management goes. This brings us to the end of this section. In the pages to
follow, we’ve analyzed the IT implementations in more detail.

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