At Work: Finance and IT - IT intelligence

Robin Fisk on how to stop your IT projects from going hopelessly over budget.

At times you'd be forgiven for thinking that successful IT projects are about as rare as England footballers scoring from the penalty spot.

There are many high-profile examples that have gone spectacularly over budget, the NHS's current National Programme for IT being the latest in an impressive series in the public sector.

But what makes this happen? Projects go wrong for many reasons, but the top three are: poor communication, where requirements are not communicated clearly enough, users are not consulted, milestones are not communicated and expectations are mismatched; lack of commitment from the senior management team, the project manager or the supplier; and ambition not being met by budget, where the project was probably unachievable for the available budget.

High-risk humans

As we all know, computers are never wrong - it's the people who tell them what to do. So projects involving people, software or both are higher-risk activities. Installing 100 new PCs? No problem. Implementing a new software package to meet a business need? Read on.

A project should deliver what it was designed to deliver to an agreed quality, on time and on budget - achieve all three and you've got success. To do so, you need to ask yourself the following questions: do we have a clear statement of requirements and success criteria? Did we get input from the users? Do we have senior management backing for this project? Is the budget secure, and is it enough? Is the timetable realistic? Do we trust the supplier? Are the right people and resources available? Do we have contingency plans in our timescale and budget?

Answer 'yes' to these questions and you're in good shape to get started.

Ignore them, and expect to pay the penalty with an over-budget project.

- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Brett Fisk.

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