This is the third of a series of articles written for the Public Media Alliance, and published in the PSM Weekly newsletter.
The Public Media Alliance is the largest global association of public service broadcasters. Our members are the organisations that communicate daily and free of charge through TV, radio and online with the 2.5 billion citizens living in the 54 countries that our members serve.
Choosing the right technology solution is only part of the recipe for ensuring a successful technology project. The real challenges – and potential for failure – begin once implementation is underway.
Careful management of the project, the vendors and your internal users will maximise the chances of a successful project delivering the results you want.
Keep it simple
The more complex a project, the more likely it is to fail. Ensure it stays aligned with the three or four overall objectives you set out at the start of the process. It is much easier for your vendors and your users if there is a very clear understanding all round of what the project is for, and how it will deliver results.
Any activity that does not help you meet these overall objectives is not needed and should be cut from the scope of the project.
It can be tempting to add to the scope mid-way. This may be valuable if the solution can provide extra benefits. But only if it is aligned with the overall goal – otherwise the resulting scope creep will be costly, and put the rest of the project at risk.
People and process before technology
Technology is only part of the answer. Unless you devote equal attention to helping your team update their skills and embrace the new systems, and redesign your operational and business processes, you will fail to realise the benefits of the project.
Even worse, there is a risk that users try to continue doing what they have always done and never properly adopt the new solution. That is a very costly problem to have.
Use effective project management
A complex project needs excellent project management to ensure success. In every project there are three main variables: time, cost and quality. For example, you can opt to deliver the project more quickly – but it will either cost more, or will require compromises on what is achieved.
A good project manager will juggle the trade-offs between these to achieve the optimum results. They will pay particular attention to managing and mitigating the many risks that could threaten the project’s success.
As a manager, ask lots of questions. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Create an open culture where your team, and your vendors, feel able to raise issues and concerns openly.
If you create unrealistic expectations and demand your team “delivers the impossible” they will start telling you what you want to hear, not the real picture. By the time you discover the project is off the rails, if may be too late.
Drive from the top down
A common theme in successful technology projects is active and visible sponsorship from the most senior management in the organisation.
When everyone in the team sees that the project is a high priority for the CEO or Director General they will rally around and work to ensure its success.
But as soon as people have the feeling that the project is a side show, or does not matter to the success of the broadcaster, they will soon find a way to kill it – either actively by ending their support, or passively by focusing their time and attention on other priorities.
Be open and collaborative with your vendors
Projects are always difficult and tempers can flare. It is all too easy to end up in an “us and them” situation, heaping blame on your vendor for failings that may very well be none of their fault.
Avoid this at all costs. Make a conscious effort from the outset to have an open dialogue with your vendors, where issues are raised promptly and resolved effectively without each side trying to blame the other. Avoid scapegoats.
Equally, recognise that your vendors have extensive experience of delivering similar projects. If they raise issues, it is almost certainly based on genuine concern – not an attempt to avoid responsibility. Listen to what they say and work together to resolve the problem.
Avoid the temptation to outsource the entire problem to your vendors. This will result in the project “being done to you”, and your own team will never feel that they fully understand the final solution. Business users will never properly adopt it.
When this happens, the day the vendor leaves is the day the solution starts deteriorating and drifting away from the business need. The inevitable result is users complaining that the system “doesn’t work”, followed by a costly reimplementation a few years later.
Ensure members of your team are fully embedded in the project design and delivery. Don’t just ask vendors to hand over design documents at the end: ensure your own staff have been involved throughout and understand exactly what has been implemented.
This is crucial to ensure the solution stays current and can adapt to your changing needs.