IT intelligence: New IT projects

Robin Fisk explains how to get your staff to respond positively to new IT projects.

IT projects have a nasty habit of going over budget, over time and under quality. Although things are improving, there's still a lack of understanding about what IT can deliver: there's often blind hope that it has magical qualities. In reality, technology is a tool, not a magic wand.

Someone once said that there is no such thing as an IT project, just business projects that involve IT. Projects mean change, and change means managing people - that is the biggest danger area for any project. Your IT project is almost certainly doomed if you fail to take people with you. This involves managing expectations, hopes and fears, which demands communication and people skills - not IT skills.

How is this done? First, take care how you present IT projects. Don't talk about implementing "a new customer-relations management system"; use a phrase with business meaning, such as "a project to improve donor relationships". This stresses that IT is an enabler, not an end in itself. It also establishes the project as a business initiative, for which it makes sense to appoint a business sponsor, not just an IT sponsor. And it means everyone is focused on the business benefit, not just the shiny technology.

Second, understand the necessary changes and any resistance to them. A useful tool for this is the 'force field analysis' (see the net for examples), which will reveal the need for strategies to enable change. These may involve alterations to the project plan to bring about early 'wins' and improve buy-in from sceptics.

Third, if your project involves using an IT supplier, identify whose job it is to manage the stakeholders. A supplier rarely has the mandate to impose organisational change without your help, but can provide useful experience and workshops to help bring everyone onside.

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