Six steps to avoiding IT disasters

Six steps to avoiding IT disasters

Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management, encouraged conference participants to "do exactly what a biochemist does" and carefully filter IT ideas before getting started. He said recent studies show that less than 50 percent of companies' technology projects correspond with their business strategies.

A series of recent failed information technology projects have cost the federal government far more than recent natural disasters, IT guru Gopal Kapur told attendees at the Government Technology Leadership Institute Tuesday. But the good news is that government executives have some control over IT disasters, unlike hurricanes or earthquakes.

Failed IT projects in recent years have created a $105 billion loss, Kapur estimated, while Hurricane Andrew in 1992 cost $20 billion and the Northridge, Calif., earthquake of 1994 cost $10 billion.

IT professionals typically try to fix their IT problems by spending money on more technology, higher pay and benefits, and recruitment of new employees, when, according to Kapur, the answer lies in six basic steps:

  • Filtering half-baked ideas
  • Performing due diligence
  • Ensuring solid sponsorship
  • Developing skilled project managers
  • Monitoring the vital signs
  • Developing a robust project portfolio

To filter ideas, Kapur suggested asking the following questions: What are the reasons for the project? Which specific strategy is it linked to? What are the specific objectives and benefits? What are the measures of success? How realistic is the delivery schedule? Under what conditions should the project be shut down?

In performing due diligence, executives should assess an IT project's stakeholders and its technical and business complexity, Kapur said. Executives also need to identify the sponsor of the IT plan, the champions of the plan and whether the plan has a nemesis.

To ensure solid sponsorship of IT projects, Kapur said executives need to empower the project manager, formally manage the project scope, champion the project and the team, provide guidance, approve plans, clear road blocks, ensure timely availability of resources, review progress and ensure that promised benefits are realized. Following these steps will lead to 10 percent fewer project failures, Kapur said.

Executives must also develop skilled project managers who are able to resolve conflicts related to project scope, staffing and status. This can be done by taking the time to rate how well your project manager develops plans and realistic schedules, tracks project progress, manages expectations, runs his or her team and negotiates, Kapur said. If you find that the project manager's skill level is below the needed project skill level, mentoring or training is needed.

Monitoring the vital signs means keeping track of the basics, Kapur said. Executives should always know if a project is on schedule or not, how the actual cost of the project compares with the estimated cost and whether the project team is getting along.

Finally, Kapur suggests that executives keep close tabs on their IT portfolio. That means asking the following questions: Do you know how many proposals are currently underway in your IT department? Do you know how many projects are being currently executed in your IT department? Do you know the status of the various proposals and projects?

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