The single most important success factor for projects: Get it right from the onset

Everyone wants every project to be successful. When clients are asking what must be done to ensure success my answer always is: get it right from the onset.

Over the decades of my professional career in IT implementation projects – both successful and troubled ones – I have come to learn the following. Mistakes you make in the first phase of your project can turn out to be devastating but often go unnoticed until later. Mistakes in later phases can lead to higher costs and may need time to resolve but they usually can be addressed within the project to eventually go into production.

Why is that so? Well, compare an IT project to the construction of a skyscraper. Both depend on a solid foundation. You won’t be able to fix the basement once you have arrived here:

One would not be able to go back without endangering the entire project – demolishment or abandonment are the options. In any case most likely the premature end of that very project.

Just like with the construction example any project depends on a solid foundation to be built on. For IT projects this includes (but not limited to) the following.

  • Stakeholder engagement and involvement
  • Effective governance
  • Scope definition tightly linked to the business case
  • Detailed planning and scheduling of all deliverables needed to complete the project including dependencies and resource requirements (both internal and external)
  • A proper project management charter outlining specific approaches to scope and risk management, quality assurance, and issue resolution just to name a few

The nomination of a competent and experienced project manager on the client side is obviously one of the first and early steps and, if done well, will ensure this all-important preparation work is done well. In fact, on the other side, this is a good example for what can be done wrong in the beginning but often only shows results and consequences later.

But where to find that individual with the right experience and leadership style to manage the project or program to success on behalf of the client? Outsourcing this role to one of the envisaged, external service providers is a common approach. Just who, then, is managing the service provider(s) and who is coordinating the client’s own involvement? Finding a good candidate from inside of a client’s organization proves difficult when the best people cannot be made available for the project or when it doesn’t make sense to hire someone just for the limited time of a project.

This when contracting an independent project manager on behalf of the client comes into play. Platforms like Toptal are a good place to find hand-selected and competent individuals helping to find the right project leader.

Every top project manager I have come to meet and see in action will ensure this critical foundation building phase of the project is done professionally and to the extend needed to ensure a successful outcome. This is my best answer when being asked for what is the single most important success factor for IT projects: have the right project manager ensure the foundation is fit for purpose and solid enough to carry the project all the way through closure.

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