At the best of times, an IT implementation is an immersive, resource hungry and often business disruptive activity. In my 20 or so years’ experience of working in the development of publishing systems and software development in the legal industry, there are sometimes hidden, sometimes obvious and even ignored project management principles that lead to difficult implementations. The devil is in the detail, but let’s look at some tried and tested measures that IT teams can take to ensure project success:
- Do you know why you are implementing the project? Everyone knows you need clear drivers and benefits for a project to succeed. But sometimes merely to get a proposition signed off for execution is plagued by political agendas that cloud good judgement. People get very intransigent in the belief that their idea will indeed produce the desired benefits to the organisation. This results in the idea remaining unchallenged and properly thought-through. Foremost, ensure there is a strong, diverse and independent investment team that understands the business rationale for the project.
- In addition to the investment team, appoint a member of the senior leadership team in the law firm as a project sponsor/champion. Make this individual truly accountable for the project's success, but also empower him or her with authority to take action as and when needed during the course of the project.
- Ensure that planning, especially around skills and resource isn't neglected. Get as much detail as possible into the initiation documents. Often project teams know there are gaps in resourcing, but commence execution nevertheless. It’s a risky approach that is likely to set you up for failure. Don't be afraid of demanding that the necessary resources are ring fenced from the word ‘go’. This is especially important for agile projects.
- Not just in law firms, but even widely in other organisations, many project team members are contracted/seconded and sometimes only part-time on the project. If that is the case, be realistic about their skill set and contribution to project delivery. Make sure that project team understands the drive for the project, what is expected of them, how much time they are going to be needed for, and so on.
- Make sure that key team members including sponsors and all other touch points in the firm have the right training and that they fully understand how the project will be run. Also note that a significant change in methodologies requires significant commitment of business resources and should not be underestimated.
- Prior to execution, hear from the people at the coal face in the firm who are likely to be directly affected by the project's deliverables. Ask them to articulate the pros and cons for the proposed project idea. This will ensure their engagement in the programme, but also their patience during implementation.
- Be realistic. Don't think things are resolved just because somebody has given a deliverable an 'amber' status. Ensure that it can be delivered if certain action is taken and know what that action has to be, when it has to be done and who is doing it.
- Stick to the agreed thresholds, budget and schedule. Be prepared to stop or pause a project quickly (fail fast), if needed. This requires establishment of clear escalation paths and communication protocols.
- Last, but not least, celebrate success and completion regularly! At the same time, regularly request feedback and diligently learn from it to fine-tune future deliverables. This should of course be a natural outcome of an agile project.
If you are looking for more detailed guidance on IT project management, or adopting an agile methodology, we would be happy to advise. A well-executed project will be the difference between success and failure of an IT implementation.