How to avoid a Census-like meltdown in your next technology project

In the last few months I’ve followed with interest the disaster of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census. We all know the story now, but in terms of PR disasters it couldn’t have been much worse for the Federal Government. What amused me most was the blame game that happened afterwards: Who was responsible? Of course, the government and their IT partner both pointed the finger at each other.

What happened to our friends in the Federal government is not something that business is immune to; in fact, research suggests that over 50% of businesses experience a failed IT project. For me, these failures can usually be traced back to poor planning, whether by the client or their chosen IT partner. From my experience over many years, running a variety of these projects, there’s four key areas you need to focus on to ensure the right outcome.


Know what you want upfront

With any project, it’s important to know what you want to get out of it. It might sound simple but I’m amazed at the number of times I’ve seen this part go wrong. Be really clear on the outcomes you want. For example, I stress to my team they should go into all client technology projects with an open mind: It’s the client that lays out where they want to go. Once we know the outcome you want, we can map out the journey to get there. Think of it as going from ‘point A to point B’ in simple terms. Your inputs upfront are vital to your chances of success.

Clearly define the scope

Again, it might seem obvious but the power of a good scope of works (SOW) can make a huge difference to your success or failure. In my view you need to have a solid SOW at the start and be prepared to track and monitor your IT partner’s progress against it.

I won’t let our professional services teams move forward without a fully agreed and signed SOW. It’s an important part of our project management process and is something we utilise in every deal we do. From scope we go to pilot, then a rigorous testing phase, before finally signing off the final rollout. That of course is a simplified version of actual steps, but the most important aspect is that both the client and our team are working to the same agreed scope. In my experience: Get it agreed in writing before moving forward.


Think about the cultural change

When I say cultural change, I mean think about the impact the new technology you’re rolling out will have on your employees. I’ve seen examples where a new piece of technology has ticked all the boxes, only for it to fall down at the stage of a business actually using it.

I’ve always found its best to plan this element into the project itself. If you identify the cultural roadblocks upfront you’ll find that it’s easier to solve at go live. This can be a challenge for a SMB: You don’t have access to a raft of change managers like a large corporate does! Any good IT partner should take this into account and be able to assist you in getting it right so you can start realising the benefits.


Think long term

You also need to keep an eye on the future. I wouldn’t work with a partner that’s not going to review your progress and help you future-proof the solution. I hate the ‘drop and run’ approach; it’s something that I’ve seen happen far too often. Factor this element of a project in to your planning, if the IT provider doesn’t have a long term goal to work with you, run away as fast as you can!

When thinking about your next IT project keep these points in mind…it might just help you avoid an ABS style meltdown!