Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Two key roles for any technical project

Learning the Hard Way

As may readers of this blog have undoubtedly found, there are many challenges facing technical teams and project managers having to deliver technical solutions within a known period of time.  Many of these challenges can result in deadlines missed, budgets blown, and, in the worst case, the project abandoned.
I have unfortunately seen all of these situations occur over the last 15 years since I started technical work.  While any project is going to have its share of challenges and issues, there are a couple of steps we can take to greatly increase the likelihood of success within the technical project.
A key step to developing a robust project is the careful selection and inclusion of two key roles:
1. Primary Client Stakeholder
2. Project Technical Lead

Primary Client Stakeholder

A primary client stakeholder is the person who is the main point of contact for the project technical lead.  They provide information about the current system processes and inform the development of the new system.  The client stakeholder should have three key attributes. 
The first is a deep understanding of the system or process that is going to be supported using this new technology.  They need to understand in detail the current process used, the users involved in that process, and what their responsibilities and skills are.  And the challenges that the current system or process are presenting.  The reason that they are pursuing the new system.  It may be tempting to have higher levels of management as the primary stakeholder(s), but, unless that management is intimately involved in the day to day execution of the processes, they won't be able to provide sufficiently detailed informed advice for technical questions.
The second key attribute is simple, availability.  As each iteration of design and development is completed, you are going to need someone available to answer questions about proposed solutions or details on the business process.  This person either needs to be able to answer emails or phone calls within a day, or have a weekly scheduled meeting to cover project issues and details.  I have seen primary stakeholders assigned to a project due to their position rather than their expertise.  This results in frustration trying to get project details and scheduling clarification time with this person as they have to find out the answers from others, and have availability issues.  Time should be deliberately scheduled for a primary stakeholder to support this project, rather than it being "off the side of their desk".
The third is buy in.  If you are attempting to build a project that the primary stakeholder is not convinced they need, then you are not likely to be successful.  The primary stakeholder needs to be sold on the value of this project before the project starts.  The best primary stakeholders are deeply involved in the processes currently being used and understand very well the challenges the current system has.  They are therefore highly motivated to ensure the new system is both functional and an improvement over the existing technical solution.
  • Deep understanding of current system/process being replaced.
  • Enthusiastic availability for questions and meetings.
  • Understands why current system/process is being replaced and is highly motivated to ensure that replacement is successful.

Project Technical Lead

It continues to surprise me when technical projects fall behind, and even fail, based on technical knowledge.  Whether your project is internally resourced, or you are hiring an external company, the Project Technical Lead for the technical team is critical to the projects success.

It seems that some service providers in the IT business are able to obtain projects in areas they are simply not qualified due to a successful sales team or a personable executive.  And then the company struggles to complete the project, expectations are rolled back, and, if your lucky, you end up with a portion of what you had originally planned for.
There is simply no better way of ensuring a project will be successful than having people who have completed the same type of project in the same technology multiple times before working on your project.
Things like certifications, testimonials and reassurances from executive are nice, but they are just that, nice to have.  If two companies are equally qualified based on experience for a project then these factors come into play.  But before any of this is even considered you first need to ensure the ability to deliver a project in this technology already exists.
Ask for three projects completed with this technology in the past with client references.  And phone the client references.  This step, which may seem like a hassle up front, will pay you back tenfold when you project is successfully delivered and meets expectations.
The core of the technical team is the Project Technical Lead. So, it follows that they must have had experience with projects using the same technology proposed for your project.  Sometimes companies will provide evidence of completed projects but have an inexperienced technical team on this specific project.
It's therefore not enough to ensure that the service provider has had experience in this type of technology before, its also key to ensure the technical project lead has this experience as well.  And that this technical lead will be assigned to your project from start to finish. 
Unfortunately, I have seen companies with technical leads that were well qualified for the work get quickly pulled for a more junior resource once the project starts.  It should be written in your contract both who the technical lead is and that they are expected to remain with the project for its duration.
  • Has completed and delivered multiple projects in this .
  • Is available for the duration of the project (even if it goes long).
So, while having a company experienced delivering project of this type in your technology is a great start, you also need to ensure that the technical lead on that team ALSO has that level of experience.

And internally, having a team that has already delivered this type of project before is a much easier path to success than most others.  Whether internally or externally delivered, the core technical success on a project is primarily determined by the second key role, the Project Technical Lead. 

No Shortcuts

It can be tempting to try and shortcut past these two key roles and not spend the time necessary to ensure that the experience, commitment and availability of resources is in place before starting.  However, time spent here will result in a much higher likelihood of success.  Learn the lessons of the past and apply them to ensure success in the future.

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